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Ice packs and heating pads are among the most commonly used therapeutic treatments. So which one is the right one to use, ice or heat? And how long should the ice or heat treatments last?

Ice Treatment

Ice is most commonly used for acute injuries. If you have a recent injury (within the last 48 hours), where swelling is a problem, you should use ice. Ice packs can help minimize swelling around the injury. Decreasing swelling around an injury will help to control the pain.

Ice may also be used for chronic conditions, such as overuse injuries in athletes.

In this case, ice the injured area after activity. Icing after activity will help control the inflammatory responses. Never ice a chronic injury before activity.

Heat Treatment

Heat should be used for chronic conditions to help relax and loosen tissues, and to stimulate blood flow to the area. Use heat on chronic conditions, such as overuse injuries, before participating in activities.

Do not use heat treatments after activity, and do not use heat after an acute injury (see above). Heating tissues can be accomplished using a heating pad, or even a hot, wet towel. When using heat treatments, be very careful to use moderate heat for a limited time (be careful of burns). Never leave heating pads or towels on for extended periods or while sleeping.