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When to use Ice or Heat packs

Healthy woman Injury from exercise in the gym, she injured his knee

Heat and cold are the two most common types of non-invasive and non-addictive pain-relief therapies for muscle and joint pain. Which one you use depends on whether the pain is new or recurring.

In general, a new injury will cause inflammation and possibly swelling. Ice will decrease the blood flow to the injury, thereby decreasing inflammation and swelling. Pain that recurs can be treated with heat, which will bring blood to the area and promote healing.

The following information can help you learn when and how to use ice or heat packs.

Heat packs

What do heat packs do?

Heat opens up blood vessels, which increases blood flow and supplies oxygen and nutrients to reduce pain in joints and relax sore muscles, ligaments, and tendons. The warmth also decreases muscle spasms and can increase range of motion. Applying superficial heat to your body can improve the flexibility of tendons and ligaments, reduce muscle spasms, and alleviate pain.

How is it applied?

Heat can be applied by an electric or microwavable heating pad, hot water bottle, gel packs, or hot water baths. The heat should be warm, not too hot, and should be maintained at a consistent temperature, if possible.

When do you use it?

Apply heat if you have stiff joints or chronic muscle and joint pain.  Chronic means the problem has been going on for 3 months or more.

How can I use it safely?

Don’t apply it directly to skin. Instead, wrap the hot device in a thin towel.

Here are other tips:

  • Don’t apply heat for longer than 20 minutes, unless your chiropractor recommends longer.
  • Don’t use heat if there’s swelling. Use cold instead!
  • Don’t use heat if you have diabetes.
  • Don’t use heat on an open wound or stitches.
  • Don’t lie down on a heating pad; you could fall asleep and burn your skin.

Ice pack on elbow

Ice packs

What do ice packs do?

Cold slows down blood flow to an injury, thereby reducing pain and swelling. Cold packs slows circulation, reducing inflammation, muscle spasm, and pain. It should be used if the area is swollen or bruised.

How is it applied?

Cold is applied by an ice or gel pack.

When do you use it?

Any cold treatment should be used for 24 to 48 hours after an injury. Cold therapy is good for sprains, strains, bumps, and bruises that may occur in sports or lifting. Apply cold packs or ice bags to injured areas for no more than 20 minutes at a time, removing the cold for 10 minutes and reapplying it again.

If in doubt about whether to use hot or cold…USE COLD!  Then speak to Laura or Felicity about which would be best for you.

How can I use it safely?

Don’t apply it for longer than 20 minutes. Also, wrap ice or ice packs in a thin towel before applying. Ice packs can be reapplied after 1 hour.

We are currently selling re-usable NAQI Cold-Hot Packs which provide lasting pain relief.  For more details click here.


Please speak to your chiropractor before applying a heat pack or cold pack to be sure you will get the most benefit.

Felicity Rogers

Felicity graduated from the Welsh Institute of Chiropractic in 2007 upon completion of a BSC degree in Chiropractic and has been working as a Chiropractor in the UK for over 7 years.

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