For Your inflammation

Ice or Heat?

  Knowing when to use ice and heat is very important.  During the initial stages of injury (acute inflammation), ice/compression is the preferred choice for pain relief while controlling bleeding and swelling.  You will notice that professional athletes will often have a bag of ice taped to them as soon as the game is finished.  This is because ice is especially effective if applied early and often after an injury. 

  Heat, in contrast can actually increase swelling (Oedema).  This is especially true in lower back and neck injuries.  Patients often make the mistake of putting heat on a recent lower back injury because the sensation of warmth on their skin initially feels comforting.  What they don’t realize is that heat actually increases blood flow and pressure to the injured area.  Nerves in particular are very sensitive to inflammation.

 Acute inflammation can last 24 – 48 hours.  This is followed by a period of decreasing inflammation (subacute) that can last 10 - 14 days. 

 Heat is most effective when used on long standing problems that have become chronic.  Sometimes it is desirable to increase blood flow to promote healing and to stretch tight muscle.  Switching between heat and ice is often done to treat areas that have poor blood flow, such as ligaments and tendons.

 If you have trouble remembering what to do in an emergency, remember PRICE.  P.R.I.C.E. is an acronym for Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.

P is for Protection - Protect the injured area from sustaining any more damage.

R is for Rest - Allow the injury time to heal.

I is for Ice - Ice should be applied to an injured area as soon as possible.  Use the 10/10/10 method of ice application: 10 minutes of ice; followed by 10 minutes of rest without ice; followed by 10 minutes of ice again.  Do not apply heat.  Ice works to reduce pain and inflammation to your injured muscles, joints, and tissues and may even slow bleeding if a tear has occurred.  Use a towel or barrier cream between the ice and your skin to avoid cold burns.  Check your skin regularly.

C is for Compression - Use a tensor bandage to wrap the injured area.  When wrapping begin at the end furthest away from the heart.

E is for Elevation - If possible, raise the injured area above the level of the heart, especially at night, by putting a pillow under the injured area.

After the first 48 hours, slowly start to use the injured area again and continue icing for another day.  If you are unsure of the severity of your injury, consult a chiropractor for evaluation.

Contraindications: Do not place ice or heat directly over open wounds, infected or damaged skin.  If you have hypersensitivity, Raynaud's or diabetes, consult a chiropractor before using ice or heat.

Each individual’s situation is different and may require specific advice on applying ice and heat. If you have questions please contact one of our chiropractors and they will be happy to help. 



Watson, Tim (2008) Electrotherapy: Evidence based practice 12th Ed., Elsevier, ch 9. Heat and cold application.

Alberta College and Association of Chiropractors - Blog:


Last modified on 14 August 2013
11 July 2013
Written by:
Rate this item
(2 votes)
Tagged under

Lakeridge Chiropractic

1291 King Street East
L1H 1J2


You are now being logged in using your Facebook credentials