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To ice or to heat?

10 May, 2022

When to ice and when to heat

You’ve pulled a muscle, felt something go snap or just feel achy all over. What do you use? Ice? Or heat?

Ice in early days

In the first 2-3 days, ice can be helpful to reduce the inflammation and take away some of that initial pain.

Inflammation is part of the body’s natural healing process. There’s an argument to not ice an injury as we don’t want to interfere with this healing process.

Others find it really beneficial to reduce some of the pain and allow them to move more freely. Movement is helpful for healing too!

So should you ice or not?

If you find ice is beneficial and allows you to get on with life, then go for it. Generally you’ll only use ice for the first few days and for 5-10 minutes at a time.

I’ve flared up an old injury, should I ice?

Flare ups can trigger a new inflammatory reaction or it may just be a bad day without inflammation. If there’s inflammation, then ice can be helpful over the injury site. If it’s muscle spasm, then heat would likely work better.

Heat packs for muscle tension

Heat packs can relieve muscle tension from stress, overuse and chronic pain.

Heat can be used after a few days of an injury (after the ice period). Using heat straight after an injury can make the pain worse.

If heat is great for muscles and ice for injuries, what do you do for a muscle injury?

If it’s a true muscle injury, where there’s a tear or damage done, then ice should be helpful for the first few days. If it’s a bit of tightness after a heavy gym session, then heat is likely better.

This is where a your chiro or osteo is really helpful as they can assess and diagnose what’s happening. They’ll let you know what the injury is, how you did it (and how to avoid it in the future) as well as whether ice or heat is better.

Heat pack
Heat pack

How to apply heat to help pain

  1. Apply the heat back to your tight and achy area.
  2. Leave on for 5-10 minutes and then take a break for 5-10 minutes.
  3. Repeat hourly or as required.

Appointments available in Moonee Ponds or online.


  • Ice in the first 2-3 days after an injury
  • Heat for ongoing concerns
  • Limit to 5-10 minutes at a time with either ice or heat
  • See what feels best for you

About the Author

Dr Tonilee Pelz - Chiropractor & Pilates Instructor

Dr Tonilee has completed the two year Chiropractic Sport Science certificate. She may assess your squat, adjust your gym program or massage while you move. Sports Chiropractors use a range of techniques according to your injury. She's also a trained Pilates Instructor with specialised training in pre and post-natal Pilates.

Dr Anthony Lugara - Chiropractor

As a Chiropractor, Dr Anthony loves using a range of techniques to see the best results for his clients. Along with adjustments, he incorporates cupping, dry needling, massage and home exercise programs. He's passionate about seeing people feel their best at any age.

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