Village Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation Shellharbour

Heat or Ice?

A common question we receive in clinic is – Should I use heat or ice? Surprisingly most people are not aware of what we should be using in certain circumstances. There is alot of conflicting advice surrounding this question but we are going to make it simple for you.


Have you ever had an injury that swells and bruises eg rolling an ankle??? You will know how painful this is – naturally we tend to grab the ice pack for relief. But why?? Swelling and bruising are the external signs of acute inflammation of that area – this inflammation can be due to tissue or bone trauma. Although we like to minimise inflammation early in the treatment of these injuries, it is important to remember that inflammation is an important part of the healing process. One of the best ways you can counteract inflammation and swelling is to apply ICE.

Ice can be applied in many of ways – ice pack strapped to the area, immersion of body region in cold ice bucket or even the trusty bag of peas. When applying ice, you should leave it for approximately 10minutes. You must ensure that there is no burning or blistering of the skin during this time.


Now to heat – we all know how nice it is to jump in a warm shower, alot of us feel instant relaxation and stress relief. Keeping this in mind, what would you do when you feel that really tight locked up muscle in your neck – Heat or ice?? We could say either, but in my practice I tend to recommend the application of heat to help with relaxing the muscles. The best way to apply heat is through the use of a wheat bag.

There is always an exception to the rule – what about arthritic joints….

In general if the joint is burning, red or hot – apply ice. **Never apply heat to a red, hot inflamed joint, the heat will only increase the inflammation.

If the joint is feeling stiff as are the muscles – apply heat to help increase the blood supply to the region and loosen it. **Never apply ice to a stiff joint or muscle, this will make it worse.