Too hot to handle, too cold to hold.

So, when exactly should you use hot packs and when is ice better? It’s a common enough question we get in class. The easy answer is:

Use ice now, use heat later.

Well, not right now, we hope. “Now” meaning ‘immediately after the injury’. Heat later, 3+ days after the injury.

Ice: reduces pain, swelling, inflammation and helps to reduce bruising. It’s useful as soon as an injury has occurred (or also in acute flares of chronic conditions like arthritis). Keep your hot/cold gel pack in the freezer and its ready to go. Ice the affected area for 10 minutes each hour for the first 24 hours. Then for the next 2 days, ice for 10-15 minutes three times a day. Perhaps before school/work, after school/work and before bed.

Heat: can help with chronic pain, like low back pain. It can also promote healing after an acute injury. (E.g.: from a triathlon) has had a few days of ice treatment, by encouraging blood flow to the area and relaxing muscles that are in spasm. Follow the instructions on your hot/cold pack to warm it up. Apply heat to the injured area for 15-20 minutes at a time. Again, try for three times a day. Do not apply heat in the hours immediately after an acute injury, it will increase inflammation and may slow down healing.

  • To use, wrap your hot/cold gel pack in a towel or cloth. Do not apply directly to skin.
  • Don’t let the injured person fall asleep with heat or ice on their body.
  • If you reach 5 days after the injury and there is still pain despite your best treatments, it’s time to find professional help.
  • And of course, if either ice or heat seems to be making things worse, then stop!