You’ve just finished playing a couple of sets of tennis. You get home, and your elbow starts hurting when you turn the door knob? You’re not sure what happened, and it looks a little swollen.

Is it time to ice, or should you apply heat?

Good question.

Both will help reduce the pain, but which is best for each type of injury? Knowing the best course of action will help you start to feel better.


When to use ice

It’s best practice to apply ice to an acute or new injury.

An acute injury, such as a sprain, involves tissue damage. There will probably also be visible swelling around the injury site.

These are usually short-term injuries. They include:

  1. Ankle sprains
  2. Knee sprains
  3. Acute pain after intense exercise
  4. Other injuries where inflammation occurs

A sprain usually includes damage to blood vessels. This will cause swelling. It is best to apply ice right after this occurs. Ice will cause the blood vessels to constrict as well as limit and reduce the swelling.

Applying ice will help these injuries to heal more quickly. Just don’t apply for more than 20 minutes at a time over the first 24 to 48 hours after the injury occurs.

Also, never apply ice directly to the skin. Wrap it in a towel or something similar that still allows the cold to get through. This will keep from damaging the outer skin layers while in direct contact with your body.

If there is still significant pain or mobility issues, physical therapy could be an option.


When to use heat

If you are experiencing chronic pain, this could indicate that a previous injury has not fully healed. Heat can definitely help ease the discomfort in these situations:

  1. Muscle pain or soreness
  2. Stiff joints
  3. Arthritis
  4. Old/recurring injuries

Unlike cold therapy, heat actually will actually expand the blood vessels and relax the muscles. This will immediately help the pain subside.

A heating pad or hot, damp towel can be used. A hot shower or bath can help as well.

Just like with ice, you shouldn’t apply heat for more than 20 minutes at a time. A physical therapist can definitely help with these types of injuries if they’re not feeling better after a few days.

The main thing with both remedies is to be consistent. If you only use heat or ice once or twice a day, you won’t reap most of the benefits. Each application builds on the previous ones to help in the healing process.

So that should help clear up some of the ice/heat debate. If you have any other questions about which would be better for your particular situation, please reach out to us. We are always here to help.