By Beth Cairns

Have you ever used heat or ice for an injury? Sure you have! ice packs and Hot packs are commonly used modalities to treat injuries, but which one is best and when should they be used? 


Ice should be used for acute or new injuries. A simple rule of thumb is use ice for the first 48 hours after an injury and definitely if there is swelling. Ice can help decrease the swelling, minimize bleeding into the tissues and decrease pain. You can use ice for overuse injuries to help decrease inflammation.

Commercial ice packs are good to use as well as ice cubes in a damp towel or a bag of frozen peas or corn. Never place ice directly to the skin and treatment time should be 10-15 minutes. 


Heat should be used for chronic conditions or to loosen sore or tight muscles. Application of heat will increase blood flow to the area so should not be used in the presence of swelling. This will cause more bleeding in the injured tissues and in effect, increase the swelling.

Commercial heating pads are good to use as well as microwavable wheat packs or a wet, hot towel.  Be sure to use a moderate heat and limit the time to 20-30 minutes. Always monitor the skin and watch for any signs of redness or burns. Do not leave heat pads on for an extended period of time or while sleeping. 

Do not use heat or cold packs over areas of infection, areas of decreased sensation, over skin that is in poor condition, areas of poor circulation, or if you are diabetic. 

If you have any questions regarding the appropriate use of ice or heat for your condition, contact your treating doctor or physiotherapist. 

If you would like to book an appointment with one of our Physios , please feel free to Whatsapp us on 071 418 0517 or call one of our branches below.

Hillcrest Branch: 031 768 8266

Howick Branch: 033 330 3899

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