Ice?  Oh, I’ve been using heat!  Is that wrong?

Ice? Oh, I’ve been using heat! Is that wrong?


Are you one of the many who’ve said that after it’s been suggested you use ice?  Or just after you’ve asked whether you should be applying heat or cold?  Well, you’d be one of the many!  So, I thought I’d explain why icing is what’s usually called for…


The technical term is cryotherapy (cryo = cold, therapy = treatment) and using heat would be thermotherapy (thermo = heat).

Heat is intrinsically comforting to us. That’s what we usually head for when we’re in dis-comfort.  So, let’s start there…



Heat is easiest applied with a Hot Water Bottle
Hot water bottle

Heat can be used by therapists to get the blood flowing into an area. This can be useful for chronic problems (those that have been around for over 3 months).  It helps by opening up the blood vessels around the area.  This allows plenty of blood in with all those nutrients on board, ready to kick-start the repair process.

It is also particularly good for over-used or sore muscles, allowing them to move a little easier.  Muscles react to heat in much the same way Blu-tack responds to temperature changes.  When it’s cold it is hard to pull and will likely snap.  When the Blu-tack is warm however, you can stretch it a long way before it breaks.  That’s also why you warm up before exercise.

But when a joint or muscle has been recently torn or pulled it’s more than likely going to be inflamed and painful. In this instance heat can actually make things more painful.


CRYOTHERAPY – Applying Cold!

Demonstrating the application of an icepack - although they forgot the towel!
Lady using an icepack to apply cryotherapy to her neck

Cold on the other hand is (or soon will be) one of your best friends, however uninvited it is to begin with.

Icing does the opposite to heat. It narrows the blood vessel, restricting blood flow. Now that doesn’t sound very helpful after what you’ve read above, but it is.  Let me explain…

When there’s a fresh injury the body responds by creating inflammation. The job of inflammation is to reduce further injury by limiting your use of the area.  It does this with swelling, redness and pain – and I’m sure you know what it feels like!


So how can using cold help?

Well, your body can’t actually heal itself whilst it’s inflamed. So, although inflammation’s great to get you out of the immediate situation, you soon want to get rid of it, and THAT’S what icing does.

As a side-benefit, by reducing the blood flow to the area, you also restrict the blood supply (and energy) to the nerves in the region.  This means that they can’t send so many messages to the brain to say that it’s painful.  So, although it might not be as cosy, icing really should be a dear friend.


If you have any further questions, then don’t hesitate to send us an e-mail or give us a call on 01403 786448

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