Should I Use a Heating Pad or an Ice Pack?

When it comes to injuries, “common knowledge” might not line up the way that it should. Heat and ice are both ways to treat certain injuries, and they’re both effective when used correctly. However, they can also harm if they’re used at the wrong times.

Treating with Heat

Heat is a very effective treatment for pain relief because it increases blood flow in the areas where it is applied. This increases the flow of oxygen, helping the body repair the injured tissues faster. Heat also helps relax muscles and can even alter your body’s perception of pain a bit.

So when should you use heat as a treatment? Generally, if the injury is older and if you are experiencing pain from the following sources, then heat is a good option for you:

  • Chronic pain due to injuries or disease
  • Muscle tension
  • Stiff, painful joints

Treating certain types of pain with heat can actually make the conditions worse though, so new injuries are generally not good candidates for heat treatments. This includes sprains or sudden strains that come with inflammation. Heat treatments also shouldn’t be used on broken or damaged skin.

Treating with Ice

Using ice to treat injuries with inflammation can be very effective, especially for new injuries. Why? The cold actually helps to decrease swelling, bleeding, and bruising where there has been trauma.

Ice can also be effective in some forms of chronic pain as well. Some chronic conditions that benefit from ice treatments include:

  • Back pain
  • Migraines
  • Arthritis

Ice shouldn’t be used for tight muscles and stiff joints though because it can make the tension and stiffness much worse. It should also not be used for conditions such as fibromyalgia and sensitive nerves.

If you’re still unsure whether either treatment would work for you, ask your doctor. They will be able to recommend an appropriate treatment based on the source of your pain and can help you to identify when and where to use the treatments. If you have any questions, we’re here to help.