What’s best: Ice or Heat?

Knee injury

We treat A LOT of injuries. The one question gets brought up every time: “Should I use ice to help treat my injury?” The answer isn’t always simple.

In the West, healthcare providers often times recommend applying ice to areas of swelling and/or inflammation. Sometimes that is the best thing to do, but not always. Other people only apply heat, and, again, it may help in some cases, but not in every case.

To help decide what is best for you and your specific situation, here is some basic data about injuries and pain:

  • First, in our clinical experience, we have seen that inflammation (swelling) after an acute injury to a joint is generally the body’s attempt to immobilize the joint to prevent further damage. Therefore, in simply applying ice to eliminate that inflammation, one is also reducing the body’s healing ability.
  • Next, it is important to realize that different pain conditions are either worsened or improved by hot or cold. Sometimes, cold makes an injury better. Other times, heat can make an injury heal faster.
  • Another useful piece of information is to understand that cold generally reduces circulation whereas heat increases circulation.

It is our stance that each case needs to be taken individually. Talking to an acupuncturist would help to guide you in the decision-making process. As a general rule, you could probably most safely alternate applying hot and cold. In cases of significant inflammation, ending with cold may be best.

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