When To Use Ice vs. Heat For Relieving Pain

March 11, 2016

At SimpleTherapy, we get a LOT of questions about when it’s best to use ice or heat as an extra element of self-care on top of exercise therapy for speeding up pain recovery for your lower back, neck, shoulder, knee, ankle, etc.

Medical Daily has featured a wonderful graphic and step-by-step breakdown for various pain-related scenarios, originally created by the Cleveland Clinic. Some of their highlights:

Arthritis: Heat wins for arthritis and injuries that linger more than six weeks. “Patients with more chronic osteoarthritis usually feel better with heat,” says rheumatologist Linda Mileti, MD. But for acute gout flares, she favors ice.

Sports injuries: “Ice seems cold, mean and uncomfortable. Heat seems warm, comfy and cozy,” says sports and exercise medicine physician Anne Rex, DO. “But ice wins for acute pain, inflammation and swelling. Heat perpetuates the cycle of inflammation and can be harmful.”Adds physical therapist Carol Ferkovic Mack, DPT, SCS, CSCS: “Moist heat helps to loosen injured muscles before activity or stretching. Icing afterward can minimize pain.”

Here’s the whole breakdown of recommendations:


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