To heat or to Ice? Santa Clara expert breaks it down.

When to use heat vs ice



Heat dilates blood vessels and increases blood flow, increasing the amount of nutrients and oxygen around the localized area it is placed on. It also increases the rate toxins are removed from the site of injury, allowing muscles to relax. Heat packs also confuse sensory nerves decreasing your perception of pain.

 When to heat:

  • After working out: Try to utilize heat therapy a few days after a tough work out! We recommend doing light exercise to generate heat systemically thereby increasing circulation and reducing cramping symptoms. 
  • Chronic pain: Heat pads, warm showers, and warm baths can do wonders for chronic pain.
  • A few days after injury: Heat has been a great tool that speeds up healing and reduces pain after the inflammatory response has died down. 

How to use heat

  • Light Exercise
  • Warm showers
  • Warm Baths
  • Warm Moist Towel
  • Heated Water Pad
  • Heat Pack

Caution: Do not leave heat pad/ device on for too long, burning may occur. As heat dilates blood vessels, it contradicted directly after an acute injury with inflammation. Heat may exacerbate the inflammatory response system and make symptoms worse. 


Ice fights inflammation by increasing constriction of underlying blood vessels, decreasing blood flow to the area. This reduces the amount of histamine, one of the main propagators of the inflammatory response. 

We recommend multiple ice session a day for best results. However it is important that sessions last no more than 15-20 min long, as freezing for too long may lead to frostbite.  We highly recommend using a cloth or paper towel to insulate the body and protect your skin.

When to Ice:

  • Within 1-2 days of injury: This helps control the inflammatory response early on. If uncontrolled inflammation can lead to pain, swelling, and decreased range of motion and strength. 
  • Right after a hard work out: Icing right away can prevent soreness and cramping. 

How to Ice:

  • Ice baths
  • Ice pack
  • Cold showers

Caution: Be sure to isulate your skin with a towel if you are using an ice pack for an extended perior of time. 

When to Alternate

If neither heat nor ice seems to be doing the trick you may want to try alternating between both! Contrast therapy is very gentle and controls inflammation while simultaneously increasing circulation, giving you the best of both worlds! 

Best for:

  • Strains
  • Sprains
  • Non-acute Swelling 
  • Muscle spasms
  • Joint aches
  • Chronic pain
  • Sports injuries
  • Arthritis
  • Fibromyalgia

DYI Tips

DIY Cooling Packs

We highly suggest wrapping ice pack with a towel in order to protect your skin!

DIY Heating 

Moist heat has been shown to be the most effective in reducing chronic pain. We recommend warm showers or baths.


Santa Clara Custom Chiropractic
(408) 248-8700
3700 Thomas Rd. Suite 207
Santa Clara, CA 95054

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