Q: Is it better to apply hot or cold to an injury? Do you ever use both?

A: The answer depends on the type of injury, it’s severity and when it was sustained. Within the first 24-48 hours of being injured, there’s almost always inflammation so stick with cold but not for too long! Applications of 5-10 minutes is plenty as too much ice can cause more harm and prolong healing.  After that time, as a general rule, apply heat to an injured muscle and cool compresses to an injured joint but only if there’s persistent swelling. You can use heat on a muscle especially if it’s in spasm since heat relaxes muscles.

Joints are a bit tricky since they don’t get a lot of blood flow so swelling can remain deep within the joint for long periods of time. After the initial injury or for joints that don’t seem to be recovering you can use a combination of heat and cold. Alternating between hot and cold applications will maximize circulation and clear any residual inflammation. Just make sure you always end with the cold application and either pat or air dry (no rubbing).

Remember, these are only guidelines and there are exceptions to every rule. For more information, just ask.


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