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Ice vs. Heat: Which Method Is Better to Treat Aches and Pain?

We’ve all been there, whether it’s a bump or bruise or chronic pain. It’s hard not to go through life unscathed in some way or another. The tricky part is knowing what painful situations call for heat and which call for ice. Or could you benefit from both?

Great for Pain, But Not Everything

Both ice and heat can bring a surprising level of pain relief for most types of pain and may reduce the need for pain medications that can have side effects and complications. However, there is limited high-quality evidence showing a consistent benefit and effect in speeding up healing or recovery. Sometimes they can actually do more harm than good.

“Ice can reduce blood flow to the area of an injury and may help reduce further damage to tissues, but it could also slow down the healing process as inflammation is a normal part of the healing response,” said Leah Hillier, MD, a sports and exercise medicine doctor and family physician at Banner-University Family Medicine Clinic in Phoenix, AZ. “After an injury, heat can theoretically increase blood flow and help reduce muscle stiffness and mobility, but it can cause more swelling than is necessary.”

“The bottom line is if heat or ice help with your pain, it’s a reasonable treatment. If it doesn’t help with your pain, there’s not much point in applying either,” she said.

Although it’s important that you check in with your doctor if you suffer an injury, here are some general guidelines for using ice or heat to treat your aches and pains.

Ice vs. Heat for Pain Infographic

To find a Banner Health physician and for other helpful tips, visit bannerhealth.com.

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