Is ice or heat best for treating injuries?

Hot and cold compresses have long been used to treat injuries, but which is best? Nick Beer weighs them up.

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There’s a vast amount of conflicting literature that challenges and supports the treatment of injuries. Ice and heat have been shown to have potential therapeutic benefits, but also possible placebo effects.


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Cold therapy appears to help reduce inflammation by slowing down the blood flow to the injured area and acting as a gentle anaesthetic. This limits the risk of swelling and tissue damage, and slows down the pain messages from the brain to the affected area.

Applying heat to an injured area encourages blood vessels to dilate, enhances blood flow and soothes muscles. Additionally, heat can help with relaxation and could be psychologically reassuring.

It has also been shown that when used in a combination (hot-cold-hot-cold), the therapeutic benefits towards treating injuries are just as positive. Applying a series of hot and cold treatments will repeatedly constrict and dilate the blood vessels, which can reduce pain and encourage an increase in nutrients to the injured tissues.


Although both therapies can have positive outcomes, there still lacks strong evidence to support them. Treating an immediate injury to reduce inflammation and pain is always a positive. But seek further medical advice, as the correct rehab strategy is essential in returning back to training as quickly as possible.