To ice or not to ice...

March 2, 2018

Considering the weather at the moment, ‘the beast from the east’, Storm Emma and all the cold weather, we thought a blog on icing seemed appropriate...



Should I ice it?

Do I use a wheat bag?

I've been told that using ice and heat can help, is that true?


Hopefully we can give you some answers as to their uses, as well as the benefits and risks of icing or using heat for aches, pains and injuries. 






Ice is a useful tool for a number of conditions including muscle spasms, acute swelling, inflammation, contusions/bruising and acute injuries. You can apply ice using re-useable ice packs, crush bags, bags of ice, frozen peas etc.


Some may argue that ice is not necessarily useful at all, as the body creates inflammation and swelling to help promote healing and recovery. So why would you want to stop that? Food for thought. But at the moment, the general consensus is that ice is a very useful tool.




For acute injuries, ice is useful at reducing swelling  by causing blood vessels to constrict (vasoconstriction) - but this is only effective in the first 24-48 hours after injury. It is also thought to play a role in reducing pain, by decreasing the speed at which nerves conduct. This effect however requires the skin to drop below 15ºC. 


For subacute injuries (ones that have been present for 5-14 days), it is thought that it is only effective for reducing pain symptoms only. 



  • Ice burns - easily avoided by covering the ice or using a towel between the ice and your skin

  • Anaesthesia (masking pain)

  • Increased swelling after prolonged use

  • Superficial nerve damage






Useful in the treatment of general aches/pains, chronic injuries and muscle spasms. Superficial heat can by applied by using wheat bags, microwaveable heat bags and single use heat bags for example. 




Heat, as you would expect, has the opposite effect to ice on blood vessels. By causing them to widen (vasodilation), it results in increased blood flow to the area and in theory helps in the recovery from injury by promoting healing. Superficial heat application can also help by allowing pain relief. 



  • Increased bleeding/swelling (if used on acute injuries in first 48 hours)

  • Burns 






Contrast therapy is the application of ice and then heat, back-to-back for a certain duration of time. There are varying methods and timings you can use. For example;


  • 2 minute rounds of ice and heat, for 10 minutes, starting and ending with ice

  • 4 minutes in a hot bath followed by 1 minute of ice (repeated 3-7 times)

  • 5 minutes of ice, 5 minutes heat, 5 minutes ice

And there are a lot more varying methods... No study has found the best method as of yet or what order, ratio or timing of application.




Contrast bathing is used to help reduce local inflammation (through vasoconstriction and vasodilation), reduced swelling, reduced pain and reduced muscle stiffness. The benefits have been found to be best in subacute injuries, as if it is used in acute  injuries the potential increase in blood flow could influence swelling, pain levels and inflammation levels. 



  • Burns

  • Ice burns 

  • Increase swelling




Now obviously, before embarking on applying your own topical heat or ice packs in your own routine, I would recommend seeking the advice of qualified health care professional who can advise on the best protocol for you. 


If you need help managing an injury, give Alpha Health a call on 020 8304 7237 to book you appointment now.


Please reload

Our Recent Posts

Please reload


Please reload


Book now 020 8304 7237

37 Upper Wickham Lane, Welling, Kent, United Kingdom DA16 3AB