Image of a burning ice cube displaying heat or ice

Heat or Ice – Why Osteopaths prescribe it

It can often be confusing when suffering from a painful injury as to which one to use, heat or ice? The exact type of injury you are suffering from will determine whether heat or ice or sometimes both, should be prescribed in order to decrease your pain levels and aid in recovery. An experienced practitioner can determine the cause, and therefore, type of injury you are suffering from.

During your consultation with one of our friendly Osteopaths we will;

  • Take a detailed case history to ensure we understand your mechanism of injury and what has happened.
  • Conduct a physical examination of the affected area as well as surrounding structures so we can generate a whole picture with how your body is moving and what is contributing to your pain.
  • We then will discuss the treatment plan, that will include some management strategies to help relieve your pain, which may include prescribing you heat or ice or sometimes an alternation of both.


When is it better to use Ice?


Your practitioner may prescribe ice to help reduce inflammation in the affected area, which is often a causative factor for any type of acute pain. Ice may act like a local anaesthetic by slowing down the nerve impulses, which prevents the nerves from spasming and therefore causing pain.

Ice is usually prescribed for acute injuries to the extremities but it can also be used as a form of pain relief for the spine as well.

Our Osteopaths or Myotherapist may prescribe ice to you for;

  • acute (sudden onset) injuries for the first 48-72 hours, with a recommendation of 15-20 minutes of usage at a time.


When is it better to use Heat?


During your consultation your practitioner may suggest using heat after your treatment. Heat is prescribed as it helps to stimulate blood flow to an affected area and inhibits the pain messages being sent from the affected area to the brain. This in turn helps decrease muscular soreness and gives you a feeling of comfort when your back or neck may be in spasm.

Our Osteopaths or Myotherapist may prescribe heat to you if;

  • You are suffering from back pain with a recommendation of 15-20 minutes of usage at any one time.
  • Heat can also be used in more chronic injuries, or after the initial 72 hours in acute injuries to increase blood flow to affected area.


When would I use both Heat and Ice?

Sometimes during your consultation you may be recommended to use BOTH HEAT and ICE in an alternating manner. This method may be an effective way in providing relief to back pain.

As health practitioners we recommend;

  • to use alternating hot and cold therapy for a total of 30 minutes. This consists of 5 minutes of heat followed by 5 minutes of ice, repeating 3 times. Not only are you gaining the benefit of decreasing muscular tightness with the heat you are also decreasing the inflammation present in the area by making use of the ice.



It is important to be cautious when making use of a heat bag not to heat it for longer than two minutes in the microwave in order to prevent any burns. It is also recommended when using an ice pack to wrap it in a cloth or towel to prevent ice burn.


If you’re suffering from acute pain, muscular aches or back pain that you think needs more attention, or would like more information on when to use heat or ice, make an appointment online with one of our Osteopaths for an assessment.
Call (03) 9570 3388