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Sports Medicine

Ice vs. Heat

10/26/2010

Question:

I think that there have been some changes in how ice and heat is used. I always was told to use heat to warm up the muscles before stretching and exercising. But now my physiotherapist uses ice. Has there been a change in what should be done? Which one is the right one to use before and after exercising?

Answer:

There has been no "change" in the use of heat and/or ice. "Heat before and ice after" exercise in the treatment of an injury is overly simplistic. 

Applying external heat before therapeutic exercise may be no better, or not even as good, compared to using "internal heat" generated by light activities such as walking, cycling or calisthenics. However, if pain is at a level which interferes with exercise, ice before exercise, and possibly also during, and/or after exercise may enhance benefit from and the ability to engage in exercise by lessening pain and helping to control inflammation including swelling.

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Response by:

Brian L Bowyer, MD Brian L Bowyer, MD
Clinical Associate Professor
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University