Heat vs. Cold

What are heat and cold used for?

Heat Therapy

-Decrease joint stiffness

-Relieve muscle spasm

-Provide pain relief

-Increase blood flow

-Increase extensibility of connective tissue

Cold Therapy:

-Decreases muscle spasm

-Decreases pain and nerve conduction velocity

-Relieves swelling and edema through vasoconstriction

-Prevents excessive tissue damage

When should I use heat or cold?

The choice to use heat or cold depends on the injury you sustain.  If you are recovering from a sudden, traumatic injury such as a ligament sprain or surgery, this would be considered “acute”. Conversely, a slow developing injury that hasn’t healed within the first six months would be considered chronic.

Acute:  Use cold

Chronic:  Use heat

(If in doubt, use ice for pain relief without aggravation)

How long should I apply heat or cold?

Cold pack:  Wrap a cold pack in a thin towel or pillow case and apply for twenty minutes.  For a new injury, elevate the injury above your heart and apply ice every 2-3 hours.

Hot Pack:  Apply for up to 30 minutes.  If using an electric heating pad, be sure to follow the instructions recommended by the manufacturer.


Individuals with nerve damage need to be extra careful wthen applying heat or cold

Remember that heat and ice are more intense if you lie on top of them

Always set a timer to avoid falling asleep and sustaining a burn or cold injury