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Heat vs. Ice Therapy

Updated on May 17, 2013

Heat vs. Ice

You may have just did a hard workout, or just sprained your ankle and wondering what should you use - heat or ice therapy? I can help by explaining the different effects and resolutions of each for different situations just enough to help you understand on what to do. I workout and I am constantly asked on what I do.

Hard Workout

Well what I use is something special at my gym is a sauna. That pretty much covers the heat part. However, let me explain why. After you have pulled and stretched your muscles they are in a way damaged. They need to be repaired and relaxed. By using heat the blood flow will carry the "bad stuff" away from your muscles to then be disposed of later. It also will help the soreness go away faster and you wont feel as damaged.

If you have an injury I would suggest icing first before you use heat. This is because of the inflammation going on and that can lead to swelling or where you cannot move it at all, especially in the injured part. This will slow down blood flow that will stop the inflammation and irritation in the injury. If you do not have an injury inflammation is not a big of an issue.

Some would suggest to use ice rather than heat. If you only use ice your blood flow stops and you would rather have that heat to keep the blood flow going. This is because the "bad stuff" broken down by your workout needs to be flowed out. It can only do that by way of your blood flow. however, there are some that use both. Only for a short time of each.

For Example - First ice for 10-15 minutes then use heat 10-15 minutes

I would agree to this except that again the blood flow stopping. You want the bad stuff to flow out of you, however, if it was short enough it should be enough time for the "bad stuff" to be removed.

All in all I would suggest what works best for you. Try one option a couple times, and then the next. Track your body's reaction and see what works and what doesn't. I am sure you find heat will be the better benefactor after a hard workout.


Sprain - Heat or Ice

An injury like a sprain is a bit more complicated. Not only do we have to factor in the pain but also the inflammation and swelling that is going on. The first thing to do is to see if anything is broken or so painful that the person cannot handle any weight. This is a major issue and the person should be taken to the ER.

Now that we have determined if this is an emergency or not we can move on to therapy. I have sprained my wrist and ankle a number of times and through some research found a type of therapy that works. It's called RICE therapy. I have not only used this therapy for ankles but also for wrist sprains.


Relax - Relax it as much as possible. Do not put any pressure or weight on it unless it is absolutely necessary. The inflammation and swelling has already begun and using it will only increase those two.

Ice -This will stop the blood flow and swelling. You want to do this as much as you can with in the first 24 hours. This is very important to do regarding the time of recovery. Remember, a swollen foot is harder to heal than an non-swollen foot.

Cover - Use an Ace bandage to wrap your sprain. This is to help with the stability of your joint. So keep it a little tight as the bandage will stretch. You might not wrap it too tight on the first night of the injury. Keep in mind that you are looking at a 2-4 day injury so try to keep it as tight as the pain will allow.

Elevate - To help with circulation then elevate the sprain above heart level. I would suggest to start doing this on the 2nd night of the injury due to the pain is harder to bear. I just don't see the benefits of doing this the first night out weighing the pain. Then again, I might be more of a baby than you are. (ha ha)



As you can see ice is the best option for the first couple of days regarding sprains. I would also suggest this for other injuries as well. So my main conclusion to the question is to use both but in only certain situations. Use heat after workout. If you have a sauna then that is even better. My gym has a wet and dry sauna. I use the wet sauna for about 15 minutes to sweat out while also heating up. Then I go in the dry sauna for about 15 minutes to relax my muscles. By doing it that long my soreness goes away fairly quickly. However, when it comes to any injury it is better to use ice. This is due to swelling and inflammation that occurs. To reduce the affects it is best to slow down the blood by icing it down.

Thank you for reading my article. Have a great workout and take care of those injuries quickly so you can recover quickly.


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