Hot or Cold: Here’s What to Consider for Your Injury

Heating pads and ice packs each have different treatment applications

Heat promotes blood flow and is typically considered a pre-activity treatment. Cold, on the other hand, reduces swelling and can help relieve pain. How to use them depends on the type of injury.

Injuries can be divided into acute and chronic based on the following characteristics:

  1. Acute injuries
    1. A recent occurrence, usually within the past 48 hours
    2. Caused by trauma, such as a traffic accident, or fall
    3. Symptoms include: pain, swelling, redness, warm skin, and sensitivity to touch/pressure
  2. Chronic injuries
    1. Develop slowly, over long periods of time
    2. Caused by overuse of a muscle or joint, or improper healing of an acute injury
    3. Symptoms include: dull pain or soreness that may or may not be continuous

Whether chronic or acute, each has their own set of rules when it comes to heat and ice.


Hot or cold

Sometimes, if it’s simply a matter of relief, hot or cold will work. Muscle aches and spasms; stiff, swollen joints; hand, wrist, finger, neck, knee, and back pain — they all can be mitigated with hot or cold treatments. For other injuries, it’s imperative to be specific — e.g., never treat an acute injury with heat.

When to cool things down

The Marshfield Clinic Health System recommends treating acute injuries with ice. Ice packs reduce swelling and provide pain relief. They should be applied infrequent, 20-minute sessions during the first two days following an injury. Allow the area to become numb from the ice. However, always put a thin towel between the skin and pack to prevent frostbite. Wait until sensation and skin tone have returned to normal before reapplying.

Chronic injuries can also benefit from ice. Post workout ice baths, or packs to treat specific areas, can help prevent the swelling and pain associated with chronic muscle and joint conditions.

When to turn up the heat

Hot pads, or a hot wet towel, can help warm up chronic injuries. The heat-induced blood circulation loosens up muscles and joints, thereby extending their range of motion, and comfort level. Just like with ice, never apply heat for longer than 20 minutes at a time. Keep in mind that heating pads should never be used while sleeping.

How to get your hot and your cold

Methods for applying heat and ice range from the creative to the designated. The following options are convenient and affordable — you may even already have some.

  • Cold or warm showers or baths
  • Electric heating pads
  • Refillable hot or cold packs
  • Microwavable, or freezable, gel packs
  • Bagged frozen vegetables
  • Hot or cold water-soaked washcloth or towel
  • Warm clothing — heated up in a clothes dryer

Beyond hot and cold — more ways to fight the pain

Unfortunately, heat and ice can only do so much when it comes to keeping your body in motion. Whether it be an injury or the expected soreness of a new workout routine, there’s more to pain relief than hot and cold.

CopperGel is clinically proven to relieve joint, muscle, and arthritis pain. Plus, this roll-on lets you focus on just the areas that hurt. Questions or concerns? Please get in touch. You can send an email to or just fill out our online contact form.

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