Cold vs. Heat – Which is Best for Pain?

At some point, most of us suffer from a strained muscle, a bad headache or some back pain. When something hurts, we want to do whatever will make it feel better faster, but which is best – ice or heat? And does it sometimes make sense to use both? In this blog post, we break down the most effective solutions to common “ice or heat” scenarios.

Acute Injuries

Skip the heat for acute injuries — in can result in more inflammation and even delay proper healing. If your injury is less than about 6 weeks old, reach for ice instead. Cold constricts the blood vessels to relieve inflammation, prevent or reduce bruising and numb pain.

We know heat feels warm and cozy, but ice is really your best bet for acute injuries.

If your injuries have been lingering for more than about 6 weeks, it’s fine to try heat. Heat increases blood flow, which can relieve aching joints and relax tight muscles. If your joints aren’t moving well, heat can also improve range of motion.

We also recommend using heat before exercising or stretching at home. Switch back to ice following activities or exercise to prevent inflammation flare-ups. Stick to the adage “warm up, cool down.”


Chill out when you have a headache. A cool wrap or mask placed on your temples, eyes and forehead can reduce throbbing pain from migraines.


Arthritis pain is caused when cartilage in your joints is worn away. The result is stiffness and pain in places like your shoulders, fingers, knees or elbows. We recommend moist heat for this type of pain. Try soaking in the tub in warm water for relief.

Gout Flare-Ups

Ice can calm gout flare-ups and reduce pain when it strikes suddenly due to gout.

Muscle Sprains and Strains

Start treating the area with ice to reduce inflammation, tenderness, redness and swelling. Ice can also help numb the pain. Once inflammation subsides, switch to heat to relieve muscle stiffness.

Safely Applying Heat and Ice

No matter which you choose, we recommend sticking to a schedule of 20 minutes on and 20 minutes off.

If moist heat is recommend, try sitting in a bathtub or taking a warm shower with water about 92 to 100 degrees.

Heat wraps, available at most drugstores, can work well for areas like your neck. If you’re using a heating pad, take care to avoid burns.

Frozen corn or peas make great ice packs. You can also place ice cubes in a baggie or purchase a frozen gel pack for relief.

Following these tips and properly applying heat or ice as needed can help your symptoms, but the best way to remedy injuries and prevent them from happening again in the future is to address their root causes. That’s where we come in — schedule an appointment at Forgey Chiropractic today to learn how we can reduce pain and inflammation.

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