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Should I ice or heat my injury

Icing and heating both do similar things, they both stimulate blood flow to the area. When heating the blood is sent to the area to cool it down. That brings more oxygen and nutrients, and removes waste products which help heal the tissue. When icing the blood is sent to warm it up and promote healing.


Ice treatment is most commonly used for acute injuries. Injuries that have occurred with the last 48 hours should be treated with ice, for the best results you should apply ice as soon as possible. Using ice packs help to minimize swelling around the injury.
Icing is often used after acute injuries such as an ankle sprain and may also be used for chronic conditions, such as overuse injuries in athletes after an activity to help control inflammation.
Ice massage
You can prepare for the need to ice an injury by filling paper cups with water and placing them in the freezer, then in the unfortunate event of you or someone you know getting an injury where ice would be the best treatment then you can simply tear or cut the top half of the cup to leave half of the ice exposed and the other half covered by the cup so that you can hold it. The length of time you need to massage depends on how much tissue covers the area. Ice a toe, for example, only a few minutes as compared to your calf muscle, which would need more time. Ice should be kept in motion and you can expect to feel cold burning, aching, and then numbness. Take care not to overcool the skin since you can damage skin with frostbite. Ice massage should be repeated three to four times a day for the first 24 to 48 hours following the injury.
How to apply ice
  1. Apply the ice as soon as possible following the injury. The effect of icing reduces significantly after about 48 hours.
  2. Apply the ice directly to the injury. Then move the ice frequently, not allowing it to sit in one spot.
  3. Elevate the injured body part while icing, this will further help reduce swelling.
  4. Only ice for 15-20 minutes. You can cause further damage to the tissue, including frostbite, by icing for too long.
  5. Allow the area to warm for at least 45 minutes or 1 hour before beginning the icing process again.
There are also other methods such as chemical ice pack and creams that give a cold sensation which can be applied immediately.
To prevent frostbite either continually move the ice or use a thin towel placed between the ice and the skin.


Heat treatments should be used for chronic conditions to help relax and loosen tissues, and to stimulate blood flow to the area. Use heat on conditions such as overuse injuries, before participating in activities.
When using heat treatment, be very careful to use a moderate heat for a limited time to avoid burns. Never leave heating pads or towels on for extended periods of time, or while sleeping. Heat can help to loosen tissues and relax injured areas.
How to apply heat
  • Heating pads or hot wet towels are both good methods. Place a towel under hot tap water and then apply to the injured area.
  • Apply before participating in activities.
  • Heat treatment does not need to be applied for more than 20 minutes at a time.
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Editor: Ryan Cranston

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All content within this article is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. Health Matters is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made by a user based on the content of the Health Matters website. Health Matters is not liable for the contents of any external internet sites listed. Always consult your own GP if you're in any way concerned about your health.

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