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Should I Ice or Heat an Injury?

Not sure whether to use ice or heat after an injury?  Use these guidelines to help you decide.


  • Use ice for acute injuries, starting 24 to 48 hours after you sustain the injury.
  • Ice is useful to reduce acute sharp pain.
  • Ice is also helpful with reducing swelling or if you've re-aggravated an old injury.
  • Do not leave on more than 15 minutes at a time as ice can cause frostbite. 
  • Wait at least an hour before re-applying ice. 
  • Do not ice an area that is already numb or sensation is decreased.


  • Heat is used for chronic injuries which have a dull or achy pain.
  • Use heat to reduce stiffness in muscles and joints.
  • Do not use heat more than 15 minutes at a time to avoid burning skin and tissue. 
  • Use heat prior to activities to help warm up soft tissue and improve blood flow.  
  • Do not use heat over numb areas or areas of decreased sensation. 
  • Do not fall asleep with either heat or cold applications.  

Getting help

If you've sustained an injury and think you need to see a doctor, contact Hall Health Center to schedule an appointment.

Additional resources

Read about treatments for tendinosis

Read about computer workstation ergonomics

National Institute for Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases factsheet on sports injuries


Authored by: Hall Health Center Physical Therapy Clinic staff

Reviewed by: Hall Health Center Sports Medicine Clinic staff (LH), February 2014