Ice vs Heat.. Which One Is Better?

Both ice and heat can be beneficial when applied properly. Using ice or heat is a cheap and effective way to help in the recovery process. However, it’s important to understand they are used for different purposes. Depending on the condition or situation, one can provide a greater benefit over the other.

Ice is a vasoconstrictor, it helps to narrow the blood vessels to limit the amount of swelling and inflammation being brought to the area after an injury. This is best used immediately following an acute injury like a sprain, strain, or bruise. There can also be some increased irritation and inflammation following activity or exercise. Ice will help control this inflammatory response.

There is a natural process that occurs after an injury. Along with inflammation and swelling, cells in the body carrying nutrients are brought to the site to repair the tissue. While some inflammation is normal (the body is doing its job), prolonged or too much of it can lead to adhesions and scar tissue. Ice helps to mediate this.

Heat is a vasodilator, it opens up the blood vessels to allow more blood flow and oxygen delivery to the tissues. It is best used when dealing with stiffness, tight muscles, or warming up for an activity. Avoid using heat immediately following an acute injury or if there’s visible swelling present because it can accelerate the inflammatory response.

With both ice and heat, they can be used multiple times throughout the day but limit each session to no more than 20 minutes at a time.Remember, ice and heat are temporary measures used for short-term relief and not the long-term solution to the issue that started 



Dr. Ryan Donahue was born and raised in Sioux City, IA. He attended the University of Iowa where he received a bachelor’s degree in Health and Human Physiology before graduating Magna Cum Laude from Northwestern Health Sciences University as a Doctor of Chiropractic. Dr. Donahue is a Certified Provider of Active Release Technique, RockTape kinesiology tape, and SMART Tools (Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization). He has also had extensive post graduate training in various treatment and rehabilitation approaches that include McKenzie Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy and Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization (DNS).

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