Ice or Heat? Here’s What Your Body Needs—And When

There’s an easy way to remember!

sports injury sore ankle when to use ice or heatphoto credit: shutterstock

Should you use ice or heat?

A sports injury such as a sprain, strain, muscle pull or muscle tear needs immediate treatment, and a good acronym to remember is RICE: Rest the injured body part, and Ice and Compress it in 20-minute intervals as you Elevate it. (Some health professionals recommend using a bag of frozen peas because you can mould it around the injured area, distributing the cold evenly.) Beware of these fitness myths that can seriously damage your health.

But at other times, such as when warming muscles up before exercise or to soothe repetitive tendon strain, heat is the way to go.

We asked Agnes Makowski, physiotherapist and spokesperson for Sport Physiotherapy Canada and the Canadian Physiotherapy Association, to explain so you know when it’s best to use heat or ice.

Use ice for

• a sprain
• a strain
• swelling
• inflammation
• overexerted muscles from exercise
• bruising
• acute joint pain

Use heat for

• overuse pain
• repetitive tendon pain, before physical activity
• tight or injured muscles before exercise
• repetitive strains
• muscle spasms
• muscle pain
• chronic joint pain

Use ice and heat for

• sore muscles a day or two after exercise

Now that you know whether you should use ice or heat, find out the best workout for your age and head to one of Canada’s top gyms – as voted by Best Health readers.