Should I use ice 🧊 or heat 🔥 ?



Feeling confused about when you should use ice versus heat, or if you should use either at all?


Well bookmark 🔖 this post for future reference!


🚩 To begin, let's go over when you should NOT use either, and/or to consult your medical doctor before using 🚩

• If you have altered sensation in any part of your body

• Diabetes (especially if you have altered skin sensation)

• Deep vein thrombosis (blot clot)

• Open wound

• Dermatitis

• Peripheral vascular disease

(Since ice/heat alters your blood flow, anyone with any of the above conditions should consult their medical doctor)


The most basic rule of thumb: If your injury is fresh (happened within the last 4 weeks) use ice. If your injury or problem area is a chronic symptom (over 4-6 weeks old) you can use whichever feels better!


However, if your symptoms are chronic but there is swelling present then you should use ice. This scenario might be something like you have managed your knee pain/stiffness for many years but after an intense work out there is some swelling in the knee. Ice will be the better option. Once the swelling is gone, and you have some lingering stiffness, you could then put heat on (if you enjoy the heat).


Also having a brief understanding of what each does to your body will help make more sense of when to use what...


Ice ➡ reduces the blood flow to the area and helps to decrease swelling and pain

Heat ➡ improves blood flow to the area and helps to decrease stiffness and pain



Here is another basic list to help you decide..


When to use ice versus heat
















When using ice...

• 10-15 minutes

• When using a bag of ice you can put directly on skin (if you can tolerate it)

• When using a reusable ice pack a thin towel or layer over your skin is best


If you are struggling with a tendonitis (or tendonosis) or a very specific tender spot, try an ice cup massage!



Fill a small paper cup up 3/4 full with water and place in your freezer.


When completely frozen, rip off the top edge of the cup so about an inch of ice is showing.


Then massage the ice directly on your tender spot (yes directly on the skin) for about 3-5 minutes or until you're numb. The sensation you will feel prior to getting numb will be cold, then a slight burn, then numbness.


Just have a towel on hand to take care of the dripping water 😉


Two specific joints that work well for an ice cup massage include ⬇

•Elbows (tennis elbow or lateral epicondylitis)

•Knees (runners or jumpers knee aka patella tendonitis)


One of my favorite cold massage tools is the Recoup Cryosphere! (no affiliation)

Check out this Instagram Reel on why the Cryosphere is my fav!

When using heat...


There is dry heat and moist heat. Dry heat includes things like electric heating pads. Moist heat using hot water and is thought to get down deeper into your muscles better than dry heat.


Moist heat methods could be

➡ Water botte filled with hot water (hot for about 20-30 min)

➡ (SOME) gel packs that can be microwaved (hot for about 30 min)

➡ Towel or wrap soaked in hot water (hot for about 20 min)


You can use the form of heat you prefer for as long as it feels good, AND as long as you are not burning your skin at all. Use a layer of protection from your skin if needed! Also, make sure if using an electric blanket it has an emergency off if you tend to fall asleep with it.


And remember all those red flags up above of when to NOT use heat (or ice)!


Pin this post so the next time you will have no confusion about which to use!

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@core.movement.fitness | kliu@coremovementpt.com