How to Use Cold & Heat for Recovery & Injuries



Cold and heat are great tools for both recovery and treating injuries.  Using cold helps reduce inflammation, while heat helps increase circulation and loosen muscles. But with so much information online and from word of mouth, it’s hard to figure out exactly what to do and when. So I though I’d put together a short guide on how to use cold & heat for recovery & injuries.

You have a few options when it comes to icing and heating, mostly it’s personal preference what you choose. Some athletes like ice more than heat or vice versa. And the preference can also vary based on location or injury. For instance, some people prefer heat on the back but ice on other areas.
What options do you have for icing & heating to improve recovery or treat an injury?


Ice Pack or Heating Pad
Use an ice pack or heating pad for 10-20 min. Take 10-20 min break before icing or heating again


Ice Massage
Ice massage an area for 10-20 min.
Freeze water in a paper cup & rip the paper away from the ice as you use it to massage the area.
Tip: keep a towel under you to catch all the melting ice


Contrast Therapy
Alternate ice & heat by applying an ice pack for 5-10 minutes followed by a heating pad for 5-10 minutes.
Keep repeating this cycle.
This can also be done with a whirlpool/hot tub and ice bath for 1-4 minutes in each.


Ice Bath
Take an ice bath for as long as you can tolerate. This is usually just a few minutes, but should be no more than 10 minutes.
The bath should be between 55° F & 65° F and not be below 45° F.

How to Use Cold & Heat for Recovery & Injuries

Hot Tub or Whirlpool 
Hot tubs are great for loosening up and relaxing. Limit use to 20 minutes.
Be sure to follow the recommendations listed at the facility you’re in.
A few points to keep in mind:
  • Use cold on injuries in the first 48 hours, not heat.
  • Heat can be used on an injury after the first 48 hours.
  • Colder is not better.  Ice baths should not be below 45° F
  • Heat can be used before exercise, but not ice.
  • Limit hot tub exposure to 10-20 minutes at no more than 104° F

Check out this informative video on how to ice an injury.


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