Which is Better for Joint Pain: Heat or Ice?

woman putting an ice pack on her shoulder pain

Anytime you experience pain in a joint, you probably have someone tell you to put an ice pack on it, while someone else tells you to use the heating pad. Both have their advantages and are great ways to save time and money on medical care, but how do you know which one to apply? The short answer is that it depends on what’s causing that pain.


Applying Ice to an Injury

Ice works best for injuries that occurred within the last 48 hours. Perhaps you twisted an ankle or knee and have experienced some minor swelling and pain. An ice pack can restrict the blood vessels and reduce the amount of bleeding into the tissues, reducing the inflammation that is causing the pain and swelling.


Applying Heat to an Injury

Heat works best for pain that comes from chronic conditions. For example, maybe you have a knee that becomes sore or stiff at the end of the day. Heat opens up the blood vessels to improve circulation and relax the muscles in the affected area.


When to Use Heat or Ice for Arthritis

In the case of arthritis, which is one of the most common reasons for joint pain, a combination of both can relieve the pain. If you experience a burning sensation and swelling in the joints, a few minutes of cold application can help reduce it. If the pain is more like soreness or stiffness, heat is the best option.


Safety Tips for Icing & Heating Joint Pain and Injuries

  • Only apply the heat or ice for up to 20 minutes in one sitting.
  • Keep a towel or cloth between your skin and the heat or ice to avoid burns.
  • Avoid extreme temperatures.
  • Never apply heat or ice to broken skin or skin with a rash.
  • If you have heart or circulation problems, avoid using cold packs, particularly in your neck, chest, and arms.
  • If the skin becomes red, numb, or blistered while applying heat or cold, stop immediately.


If you are experiencing joint pain, there may be more to the issue than you realize. Contact your local AlignLife Clinic today.



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