Ice or Heat – You’re probably doing it wrong

by Jun 7, 2024

Let’s discuss one of the most common mistakes that we encounter at Desert Valley Chiropractic when talking with our patients. That is when to use ice or heat, but chances are you are doing it wrong.  It’s really not that complicated complicated but knowing when to use either ice and or heat at the appropriate time can minimize pain and improve our healing time after injury.


Before we move on can you guess what the biggest mistake is?  Keep reading for the answer so you can avoid it.


When should I use Ice?


The most common time to use ice is during the acute healing or inflammatory phase following an injury, and or after an increase in pain from a chronic condition. This occurs within the first 48-72 hours when the inflammation is at its peak.  It is important to note that the inflammatory phase is a natural part of the healing process but It can be managed to reduce the effects an injury has on our body and bring relief from pain.

3 reasons to use ice in the first 72 hours.

  1. Reduces swelling by constricting the blood vessels to minimize blood flow to the area and minimizes swelling.
  2. Pain reduction because ice can numb the area temporarily offering pain relief.
  3. Reduce inflammation by slowing down cellular metabolism and reducing the body’s natural inflammatory response.


Common forms of Ice

  1. An ice pack
  2. A bag of frozen Vegetables (please don’t try to eat them later)
  3. Ice cubes in a towel or Ziploc Bag


When applying use a thin towel, you do not apply ice directly to the skin.



How long to apply Ice

It is appropriate to apply ice for 15 minutes at a time, and it is critical for you to repeat the process 3 or more times a day.  Honestly, repetition is the key and the more often you ice during this phase the faster the swelling will reduce and the quicker you will heal.


Ice and Heat in Combination


Following the first 72 hours (3 days) after an injury you can use a combination of heat and ice.  This is known as contrast therapy and it will help you to continue to maximize the body’s healing response.   The time frame for contrast therapy is between 3rd to 7th days after injury.


The preferred order for contrast therapy is to use heat for 15 minutes, followed by rest for 15 minutes and then ending with ice for 15 minutes.  The heat will open blood vessels improving circulation to the damaged tissue bringing the essentials the area needs to heal. However, heat can also cause more swelling, so we always want to end with ice to remove the excess swelling and minimize pain.






Let’s face it heat feels good when we use it, but easily the most common mistake patients make is to use just heat too soon after injury.  Understand that heat when used correctly can be incredibly beneficial, but we always need to reduce the inflammation with ice first, and then we can consider heat therapy.


 Benefits of Heat Therapy


  1. Increases Blood Flow: Applying heat to an affected area helps dilate blood vessels, increasing blood flow. This can aid in the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, promoting healing.  Because of the increase in blood flow, it is important to note the timing with using heat. Limit your timing to 15-20 minutes per use.  Longer than 20 minutes can cause a Vasoconstriction (narrowing of the blood vessels) which can then create a muscle spasm.  It is perfectly ok to use heat 3 or more times a day, never longer than 20 minutes at one time.


  1. Relieves Muscle Stiffness: Heat helps relax muscles, reducing stiffness and making it easier to move the affected area. This is particularly useful for chronic conditions such as arthritis. Keep in mind that if it is acute (sudden onset) muscle pain you want to use ice.


  1. Reduces Pain: The soothing warmth can help alleviate pain by relaxing tense muscles and improving blood circulation.


  1. Promotes Tissue Healing: By enhancing blood flow, heat can help speed up the healing process of damaged tissues.


 When to Use Heat Therapy


– Chronic Pain: Conditions like arthritis, muscle stiffness, and old injuries benefit from heat application.

– Pre-Exercise: Applying heat before physical activity can loosen muscles, making them more pliable and less prone to injury.

– Relaxation:  For general muscle relaxation and relief from everyday stress and tension.


Common Forms of Heat:


  1. Heating pad
  2. Moist heat from a hot water bottle
  3. Gel pack warmed in hot water or a microwave
  4. Hot sauna
  5. Infra-red light

Ice or Heat, which should I use.


Understanding when and how to use ice and heat can be a game-changer in managing pain and promoting recovery. If you have any questions or need personalized advice, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at Desert Valley Chiropractic. We’re here to help you feel your best!



Dr. Katherine

Dr. David Iacuone

Dr. Dave is a graduate of Logan College of Chiropractic in St. Louis, MO. As a student clinician he became heavily involved with the technique attending many seminars including the annual instructors seminar. He has been a clinical instructor for Activator Methods international seminars. Dr. Dave has practiced in Texas City, TX where he focused on personal injury cases and in Phoenix, AZ where he has practiced in private practice at the Activator Health Center as well as at the Phoenix V.A.

To make an appointment call us at 602-439-1515 or reach out through the contact submission on our website at Desert Valley Chiropractic.

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