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If I have an injury is it better to use ice or heat?

Initially, during the first 48 hours, it is better to use ice on an injury. Swelling at the injured area occurs the most during this time and ice is preferred to assist in decreasing the amount of swelling that occurs. After 48-72 hours, you can use heat to begin improving circulation to the injured area which will bring key healing elements to assist in the recovery process. If exercising, heat can be applied prior to activity to help warm-up the area and increase circulation, and ice can be used after activity to decrease any potential swelling that may occur due to the activity.

Ice should be used within the first 24 to 48 hours after the injury instead of heat. Although heat may seem like the better and more comfortable option, it slows the healing process. Heating dilates the blood vessels, bringing more blood to the area and causing more swelling, which you are trying to reduce.

Ice, on the other hand, constricts the blood vessels, limits blood flow to the injury, and reduces swelling. It also acts as a numbing agent to soothe the pain for a short period.

This answer provided for NATA by the Washington State University Athletic Training Education Program.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.