How To Know Whether To Use Hot Or Cold

Which will relieve my pain more – Hot or Cold?

Should you use hot or cold on that painful area? Current research shows that some people do better with cold, and some do better with heat. Listen to your body and consider how you have responded in the past. Musculoskeletal pain can often go either way. Generally, acute (new) issues respond better to cold and old issues respond better to contrast or heat. With an acute injury, the sooner you cool it off, the better. Seek medical care first if necessary. Nerve pains and osteoarthritic pains respond better to heat.


Apply ice packs over the affected area and keep a towel between the ice and your skin. Remove the ice and let it get back to room temperature, typically 30-45 minutes, and then re-apply. Often, this cycle should be repeated 3-5 times for maximum benefit. When you put the ice on, it will first be cold, then burn, then ache, and then feel numb. The stages before numb are uncomfortable, but that it okay. Apply the ice until numbness is achieved or it has been 20 minutes, whichever comes first. Do not leave it on when it is numb.

Cold Showers and Ice Baths

Cold water immersion and ice baths work better than ice packs for reducing musculoskeletal discomfort. According to the latest research, ice baths are the most effective of all three options. Ice baths require planning, effort, and resources, so this is difficult to pull off for many.

Cold showers are more accessible for most people. Start with your regular shower routine, then taper the temperature to warm, and then to cold. When you’re in the cold water, try to relax and take deep steady breaths. Resist the urge to clench, strain, or otherwise protect yourself from the cold – that is often counterproductive. Relax into the cold water and keep an open posture. You can immerse individual parts if you need less intensity, but full immersion is most effective. Many people will get used to it in a few days and feel the benefits.

Homemade Ice Pack

Pour 2 cups of rubbing alcohol and 4 cups of water into a one gallon bag and seal with as little air in there as possible. Seal this inside another 1 gallon bag to prevent leaks and then freeze it. It will be pliable, very cold, and very effective.


Apply hot packs for 15-20 minutes over the affected area and keep a towel between the heat and your skin. Remove the heat and let it get back to room temperature, typically 30-45 minutes, and then re-apply. Often, this cycle needs to be repeated 3-5x for maximum benefit. If it feels like it is burning or blistering it is too hot and you must take it off immediately and let the skin heal before trying again. Please listen to your body and pay attention.


Chronic pain often responds well to alternating hot and cold. Follow the instructions for the heat and ice, but each time switch from one to the other. Often this works well by starting with heat and finishing with ice. Make sure you allow the area to come back to room temperature before applying the heat or ice again.

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