Heat and Cold Therapy for Injuries

Heat and Cold Therapy for Injuries


Claire Shield, Senior Physiotherapist at Your Health Domain

We are well into the Winter Sports season, and the Physiotherapists at Your Health Domain are treating many sports-related injuries. We are often asked “when is the best time to apply ice or heat to an injury?”.


Ice Treatment:

Ice (or Cryotherapy) is generally used in the first 1-3 days following an acute (sudden onset) injury. When soft tissue is injured, blood vessels around the injured site are often damaged too. Blood will quickly accumulate around the damaged tissue causing swelling and compressing joints. Ice helps to reduce bleeding at the injury site, as well as decreasing pain and muscle spasm. 

 You will often hear Physios telling you to “RICE” an injury. This is an acronym to help you remember:

  • R – REST: Stop the activity you are doing to decrease further bleeding, swelling and contraction of muscles. You may need to use crutches for a leg injury, or a sling to help rest an injury to the arm or shoulder.
  • I – ICE: Ice is applied almost immediately after an acute injury to assist with pain management and swelling. Generally, physiotherapists recommend applying ice to the injury site for 10-20 minutes every 1-2 hours for the first 3 days.
  • C – COMPRESSION: Using a bandage will help reduce bleeding and swelling. A bandage should be applied during and after icing, and should start from below the injury site to about a hands-width above. Ensure it is firm, but not too tight to cause pain or restrict circulation. 
  • E – ELEVATION: Elevation is another way to help reduce swelling. Try to elevate the injured site above the level of the heart to allow blood flow back to the heart. Where possible, lay down and use pillows to support and elevate the injured site.


Ice can be applied in a several ways:

  • An “Ice N Easy” (a thick rubber bag which can be attached to your injured site with a Velcro strap) or Frozen gel packs are easy to apply and are reusable. Your Health Domain stocks both of these items.
  • A bucket of icy water is also great for immersing an acute ankle or hand injury. Try 10-20 seconds in, one minute off, for approx. 5 minutes.
  • Our Physiotherapists also use Cold Sprays when running out onto the sporting field at games. Cold spray is also available from Your Health Domain for purchase.

Always be cautious when applying ice to avoid dangers such as ice burns and superficial nerve damage. Always check the skin regularly, monitor pain levels, and seek professional help if you are unsure.

Heat Treatment:

Heat is often used after the initial 48-72 hours following an acute injury to help increase blood flow, reduce muscle spasm and help with pain relief. There are some exceptions to this rule which your Physiotherapist can guide you with such as an acute wry neck or lower back muscle spasm.

Heat packs can be applied using Wheat bags, “Hoteeze” stick-on heat patches, and reusable gel pads, all of which are stocked here at Your Health Domain.

Heat works on our bodies by allowing the blood vessels to vasodilate (open wide), bringing more blood to the injury site to stimulate healing and repair damaged tissue. Heat will give a soothing effect so is great for pain relief. It also effective in easing joint stiffness and muscle spasm by warming the soft tissue to make it more elastic and flexible.

As with ice application, always check the skin regularly to ensure there are no burns. Placing a towel between the source of heat and your body is a good way to protect your skin.



To make an appointment to see a Physiotherapist at Your Health Domain at our Pitt Street or

King St clinics, call 9251 5111 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Pitt St. City Practice

Level 7 60 Pitt Street Sydney 2000
Hours of Operation:
Mon - Fri 7:30am - 6:00pm
(02) 9251-5111

King Street Practice

Fitness First - The Zone / 94 King Street Sydney 2000
Hours of Operation:
Mon - Fri 7:30am - 6:00pm
(02) 9251-5111