Injury treatment…ice or heat?

Ice or heat for injury treatment

Liam Goode, Senior Physiotherapist at Physo4Life (www.physio4life.co.uk) takes a look at the use of ice or heat to help treat injuries.


Most injuries (sprained joints, torn muscles), involve some level of damage to tissue and that causes you to feel pain. Often people will use medication, ice or heat, to make themselves feel better – but how do they effect the healing of an injury?

The choice is between pain and optimising your healing times. Make no mistake the human body is a slow healer at the best of times but to prevent things dragging on, ice (my preference to heat), will increase blood flow to the injury and make the blood vessels more permeable so the chemicals necessary for healing can pass through more freely. This chemical ‘exchange’ is called the inflammatory response and it is painful. That’s normal.

The ice or heat will promote the efficiency of the exchange and very possibly (but not all the time), the pain levels. Anti inflammatories (Ibuprofen etc) can help ease your pain, but they will have a slowing effect on your healing. This is because they will slow the ‘exchange’ down and ultimately lead to poor quality of healing. However, the pain will feel better.

When I get asked what people should use, my answer always leans towards ice. However, if your pain levels are too high it is perfectly reasonable to use anti inflammatories to get you through the worst of it – you can always use the ice later. Ultimately, your pain tolerance will dictate everything.