A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Aches, injuries and pains, oh my! It’s heat vs. ice

Two women working out on treadmills - heat vs ice

Exercising through an injury or joint pain can be tough. Soothe the pain with heat or ice treatments: Ice for new injuries. Heat for chronic pain.

Treating your sore body with heat or ice takes some answers to questions:

Is it a new injury? Is it chronic? Is increased activity a priority?

Quick rule of thumb: Ice soothes new injuries, often called “acute.” Heat soothes chronic injuries, typically described as tender muscles and joint pain.

Should I ever alternate heat and ice?

Athletes sometimes hope to work through new injuries so this is a good time to alternate cold and warm treatments.

“If you have a new injury but want to increase your activity or attempt more motion, then you can alternate between the two,” said Brent Amble, a certified athletic trainer at Marshfield Clinic. “Heat will warm up the muscles and tendons to give your body a range of motion before you exercise. Ice will decrease the swelling and help with pain control.”

Choosing the right treatment

Now you’re faced with treatment options: heating pads, hot water bottles, ice bags, slush baths, ice cups, cooling creams… What do you choose?

For the most part, it’s up to you.

“If it makes you feel better, go for it,” Amble said. And keep the rule of thumb in mind: Ice for new injuries. Heat for chronic pain.

Refer to this guide of hot and cold treatment options with instructions and example injuries.

Heat vs ice comparison chart

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