By: Lori Hudson Bertrand D.C., R.N. 

Reducing aches and pains before they ever start is always ideal but lets face it, there’s a weekend warrior in almost all of us.  Whether it’s working in the yard or trying a new sport, heat and ice can be utilized to ease muscle and joint discomfort.  So when aches and pains hit do you use heat or ice? Most would probably rather use heat more often than not, but depending on the injury and other associated conditions, heat can either be a good thing or detrimental to the healing process. Lets see why.DSC_1795-1_WEB

photography by: Christ Minter

There are two types of injury: 

Acute – new injuries or re-injures less than 3 weeks old

Chronic – injuries older than 3 weeks

A good rule of thumb to remember: 

Acute injuries use ice.  This helps decrease inflammation and reduce pain, which is crucial in those first few weeks. Alternating heat and ice therapy can help speed up the healing process, but remember to finish with ice.

Chronic injuries use moist heat.  Moist heat such as a hot shower is better than a heating pack because heating packs can dry out the joint, compromising its integrity. Utilizing heat from the shower to relax the muscles and promote circulation is a great example of moist heat.

How to

Ice: When using an ice pack make sure to place a thin towel down between the skin and ice pack.  Contrary to what most people believe, ice should only be applied for about 15-20 minutes every hour.  After 20 minutes the tissue begins to heat up so placing the ice on for a longer period of time is actually counter productive – longer doesn’t equal better!


Heat: Effects from moist heat can be reached in 20 minutes. Typically anything past the 20-minute mark isn’t necessary.  Keep in mind, doing passive stretching while the tissues are warm can loosen up the muscles more efficiently and promote circulation.


Medical conditions or illnesses such as those that affect circulation (for example diabetes) and cardiovascular disease don’t respond to thermal changes well, resulting in a deceased tolerance to heat and cold.  Make sure circulation and sensation are intact before use of either therapy.


Always monitor the area frequently to make sure the integrity of the skin remains healthy and intact.  Smaller areas of the body such as hands and feet tend to be more sensitive to heat and ice therapy.  And do I have to say it – never fall asleep during heat or ice therapy!

Next time you get ambitious and tackle a new project, wake up the body to new found muscles or suffer from old aches and pains, consider not only what type of injury it is, but also which therapy would be best to get the body back to functioning at its optimal level!

Lori_frontblogImageDEFINE’s senior instructor and anatomy specialist, Lori Hudson Bertrand D.C., R.N. is a doctor in chiropractic and registered nurse. Her love for helping people and education of anatomy and physiology of the human body drives her to continue to share her experiences and knowledge with others as they peruse their journey towards health and restoration!

More of Lori’s Articles HERE.