Physiothérapie Montréal – Ice or heat after injury

Ice or heat after injury?

Ecrit par Weijia Xu, pht..
When we get injured, except for pain medications, we can always apply ice or heat to help healing, but which one at what time?
Let us start with the normal healing process. When we get a fresh injury, the acute/inflammatory phase usually lasts for 24hrs to 1 week. At that stage, pain is more or less constant and lancinating. There might be swelling and redness as well. For fresh injury, we will apply the PRICE protocol.

PRICE stands for: Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.

How to apply ice:

⦁ Use a damp towel between ice and skin to prevent risk of frostbite.
⦁ Apply ice for 10-15 min at a time (not more).
⦁ Visually inspect the area being treated every 5 mins, there might be discomfort and redness initially, but you should feel less pain. Discontinue treatment if discomfort continues.
⦁ You can apply ice every 2-3 hours if inflammation persists.

Contraindications for ice:

⦁ Impaired blood circulation
⦁ Absence of skin sensitivity
⦁ Raynaud’s disease
⦁ Open wound or infection
⦁ Hypersensitivity to cold
⦁ Acute dermatitis or eczema

As the inflammation calms down, injured tissues go on repairing phase. Nutrients and oxygen are transported to the injured site via blood circulation in order for tissues to regenerate. Hot packs help dilate blood vessels and increase blood flow, thus helping the removal of dead cells to promote healing. Dry hot pack can be found in pharmacy (electric pads, sac magic or gel packs), while as in clinic we use damp clay packs with moist heat. Moist heat penetrates deeper to reach muscles, ligaments and joints. At home, you can use a damp towel around the hot pack then cover it with a dry towel before applying to the skin.

How to apply heat:

⦁ Apply heat 15-20 min at a time.
⦁ Always use towels around hot pack to prevent skin irritation or burns.
⦁ Visually inspect skin every 5 min if abnormal skin color or discomfort, discontinue use.
⦁ Do not apply heat when going to sleep as it increases the risk of burns.


Contraindication for heat:

⦁ Decreased sensation to heat
⦁ Impaired circulation
⦁ Inflammation, swelling
⦁ Open wounds, skin lesion or infections
⦁ Area with a tumor or cancer


Our team will be ready for you when you need!

If you have pain after an injury, do not hesitate to consult a physiotherapist to find out what you have and how to fix it!

Note that these tips may not apply to everyone. If the pain persists, call us for a physiotherapy appointment or book online!