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Ice or Heat on Sports Injuries?

Ice or Heat on Sports Injuries?


There is often confusion among people as to when to use ice or heat on sports injuries.  Which should we use?  The answer depends on what sort of damage occurs, when it occurs and whether it is acute or chronic. Pain or inflammation can be debilitating so it is important to know what to do when you have any sports injuries.  It is of course recommended to visit a Sports Injury Clinic and the highly experienced staff will be on hand to assess and treat you.  It is also useful to know the difference between acute and chronic pain in general.

An Acute Injury tends to occur suddenly during an activity. Examples can be seen in a strained back, a fractured hand or a sprained ankle. Signs of an acute incident may include:

  • Inflammation
  • Severe and Sudden Pain
  • Inability to move a joint properly or through the full range of motion
  • Extreme tenderness in upper limbs
  • Inability to place any weight on a lower limb
  • Weakness in a limb which could be deemed as extreme
  • Visible break or dislocation of a bone

A Chronic Injury is not sudden like an acute one, but as the name suggests it is an injury that has gone on a long time. It can sometimes result from overuse of muscles. Signs of a chronic injury can be:

  • Swelling
  • A dull ache when you are resting
  • Pain when performing exercise

 Ice or Heat?

If you have an acute injury the best advice is to use cold therapy.  This can help to reduce inflammation and pain in the first instance.  Ice causes the blood vessels to narrow and can prevent internal bleeding.  Wrap some ice in a damp towel and place it on the injured area for ten minutes at a time, leaving enough time for the skin temperature to rise in between ice applications.  Ice can be used for some overuse injuries, for example if an injury suddenly flares up again after exercise.

Heat is more often used when it comes to longer term conditions.  A nagging joint pain, soreness or stiffnessm, muscle pain, tightness and spasm usually respond really well to heat treatment. It is not usually used for swelling.

When should I use Ice or Heat?


  • A sprain
  • Acute joint pain
  • Inflammation
  • A strain
  • Overexerted muscles from exercise
  • Bruising


  • Overuse pain
  • Repetitive pain, before physical activity
  • Muscle spasms
  • Repetitive strains
  • Muscle pain
  • Chronic joint pain

The Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists recommend that “before you can safely return to sport the injury should have healed.  It is essential to regain sufficient strength, mobility, balance and coordination for your sport”.  It is important to make sure you are fit enough to return to sport.  The experts at Ballsbridge Physiotherapy Clinic will be on hand to help you.


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