Close this search box.



People always ask whether to use heat or ice, and the honest answer is, for the most part, it really doesn’t matter. Neither is going to ruin the opportunity to heal or have a major effect on the outcome.

For most conditions, it’s about what feels best. Especially when it comes to chronic conditions, like arthritis, bursitis or tendonitis.

If it feels good to put ice on it, then apply ice. If heat feels better, then apply warm compresses or heating pads. If you’re not sure, alternate heat and ice, or get some of those Icy Hot patches.

In most of my patients’ experiences, heat seems to work better for chronic conditions. It feels better to keep an arthritic knee warm. Heating pads feel good on chronically inflamed joints, and a warm shower feels good on sore muscles.

There is definitely a place for ice, following an acute injury. You rarely see heating pads on the sidelines of a football game, but you do see plenty of ice coolers and plastic bags. It makes sense.

When you apply cold, it shrinks capillaries and slows down bleeding. That’s why your skin gets pale when you apply ice. This would be important if you had just sustained an ankle fracture or had knee surgery. When you apply heat, your skin reddens because it opens capillaries. Applying heat to a fractured ankle would not be helpful. It could prolong bleeding and result in more swelling.

But increased warmth might be beneficial for a more chronic condition in the later phases of healing when you need increased circulation. It helps to warm up an injured muscle or tendon you’re trying to stretch, rather that icing it. Apply the ice after the workout when that muscle is sore.

Share this Story

Dr. Barbara Bergin is a board certified Orthopedic Surgeon who has been taking care of the bones and joints of Austin, Texas, for over 30 years. She prefers prevention to treatment and takes a natural approach to both when possible. By informing her readers and patients through 1010ParkPlace and her blog,, she wants to prevent 100,000 injuries before she retires.

3 thoughts on “ICE OR HEAT?”

  1. Great advice, I never can remember which to do first. But based on this post it is pretty much common sense! I enjoy reading your posts on 1010 Park Place, they are always wonderfully informative. Thanks for the info.

  2. Great advice! I love to pass along all of your common-sense advice to younger readers to help avoid some later-in-life issues we learned the hard way.
    Glad you’re “on board” here!
    XO Donna

Comments are closed.


Sign up to our list and we’ll send you our sought-after guide “50 Ways To Change Your Life”
I'm happy you've joined us! If you like what you read, I'd love for you to stay and subscribe to our updates by email. We have a great community of like-minded women, and your presence can only make it stronger.