Proper Use of Therapeutic Heat and Ice

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How to Use Ice and Heat Properly…


For best therapeutic results, follow these guidelines; incorrect use can lead to injury, not just poor results.

  • Always protect your skin with a layer of thin towel to avoid frostbite.
  • Apply ice for a period of 10 to 15 minutes.  The thicker the body part, the more time it will need to cool down, the thinner the body part, the less time it will need.
  • You may choose to ice every hour until pain and/or swelling is reduced.
  • Never use ice on an area of decreased sensitivity.
  • Never use ice on an area which has been previously frostbitten.
  • Wrapping the ice pack in a warm, moist towel allows greater comfort and helps conduct the cold more efficiently.
  • If you prefer heat, use it only after the first 72 hours following an injury.  While heat may feel good at first, it may increase inflammation and therefore pain, stiffness, and swelling may follow.
  • Never sleep on a heating pad or any other heat source.  Apply heat to the body, not your body to the heat.  Protect your skin with a few towel layers.
  • Apply the heat for no more than 15 minutes at a time.  Never use an electric heat pad on high setting.
  • Heat is most proper for areas of old injuries and arthritic joints; ice is most proper for acute pain, redness, swelling, inflamed (warm/ hot feeling) problems.
  • Always allow an iced area an hour to warm up again after icing it before you stretch it! 


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