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  • Writer's pictureLife Made Simple Physio

Ice or heat…or both? Which application works?

Before you think that we are referring to the end of summer and the beginning of autumn, we are of course talking about physiotherapy needs and the applications that can be applied dependent on a client’s issue.

One common question we are asked is whether heat, or cold, or both, should be applied to an identified need. There is much information on the internet about which is best, but how do we really know? We have added some observations below which we hope will be helpful.


The application of heat can usually improve blood flow. Muscles can become sore after exercise due to the accumulation of chemicals, such as lactic acid, which are the by-product of muscle activity. During periods of high workload, blood flow may not be strong enough to meet the body’s demands, and we feel muscle soreness until the chemicals are eliminated. In many cases, the application of heat can therefore reduce muscle soreness post exercise.

As a general rule of thumb, the additional use of heat for chronic conditions such as joint stiffness, muscle spasm, recurring injuries and tight muscles can work well. Apply to the painful area in cycles of 20-30 minutes per hour. Never use extreme heat and avoid heat for the first 48 hours after an injury.


When a muscular injury or inflammation occurs such as a sprain, tendonitis or bursitis, tissues are invariably damaged. Ice application numbs the affected area, which can reduce tenderness and can also reduce swelling and inflammation through the constriction of blood vessels.

As a general rule of thumb, the application of ice to the injured area within 48-72 hours can work well in cycles of 10-15 minutes. The application should be kept to the area of concern; for example, an ankle sprain should not be treated with a full-body ice bath. In addition, never apply ice directly to skin.

Ice and heat together

This is a more advanced treatment proposition. The application of ice, followed by heat, can act as a pumping mechanism through the narrowing and subsequent dilation of blood vessels. This action can be incredibly effective at pushing inflammation away, but as always take suitable advice and guidance for your specific needs.

Contact Us

We look forward to helping you with your physiotherapy needs, and in addition massage and reflexology therapy, tailored to your personal circumstances. If you are interested in our services feel free to call us on 07309 272 555 or email Life Made Simple - expert physiotherapy in Guildford and Surrey.

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