Hot and Cold Therapy for Pain Management


Everybody wants quick and effective pain relief when we need it. Our modern world offers fancy solutions from laser treatments to ultrasound therapies. Those treatments may not be easily available to everyone due to their cost. More modest solutions range from painkillers to ointments. The painkiller option can be a dangerous route leading to addiction and we can explore that topic on a different day. Today I’d like to focus on affordable and easily available solutions for pain management – hot and cold therapy.


Also known as cryotherapy, cold therapy can help you deal with the pain of a recent injury within the acute phase (1-7 days).1 It can also help you with any conditions that cause inflammation such as a swollen, arthritic joint. The standard recommendation for an acute injury is RICE – Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. This guideline was created by Dr. Mirkin in the late 70’s through his bestseller Sports Medicine Book.2 Most emergency rooms, doctors, physical therapists and professionals in the medical sector still go by this recommendation.

I had to check if Dr. Mirkin had changed his opinion on RICE since his book was published a while ago and I did find and update! He starts his statement by explaining the healing process of an injury and how ice can delay such process but at the same time he goes to mention that ice has been shown to be a great option for pain management. Dr. Mirkin’s recommendation now is that for pain management, a soft tissue injury can be iced for 10 minutes followed by a 20 minute rest.3 This can be done once or twice. According to him, Ice should not be applied more than six hours after the injury occurred. He also stresses the importance of stopping exercise right after the injury and resuming once the injury has healed and the activity does not cause any pain.

My favorite cold therapy tools are ice packs because they are mess-free. I wrap them in a thin towel and apply them to the affected area. After I’m done using them, they just need to be washed in soapy water after each use. Just put them back in the freezer so they’re ready to use anytime. These are the ice packs I get from *Amazon. As we can see, cold therapy is very helpful to relieve pain, just don’t over do it. If you can’t feel the area where you are applying cold therapy or your skin is becoming red, it’s time to take a break. Wait until your skin returns back to normal and reapply if needed.


Heat therapy is widely used for situations where there’s no inflammation or injury present. It is very soothing for muscle pain, stiff joints, trigger points (or knots), muscle spasms, etc.4 Remember, hot therapy should be avoided whenever there is an infection or recently injured tissue.

Heat on the body becomes very therapeutic. Think about a warm bath or a massage: they both generate heat in the body. The warm bath is very relaxing and can positively change how you are feeling. It’s no different with a massage where the friction and hopefully warm hands of the massage therapist, generate heat on your skin. When heat penetrates our skin, it’s working on our nervous system to relieve pain. Quick heat therapy options can be an electric pad, a microwavable gel pack, a cherry seed pack or an infrared massager.

Just like with cold therapy, there are precautions to take. Do not overheat whatever tool you are using. Always quickly test if hot therapy’s temperature tool is not too hot to be applied on your skin. If you have an electric tool, follow the safety instructions.
People have a favorite kind of therapy between hot or cold but always remember to follow your doctor recommendations and notice how your body responds to it.

* It will not cost you more to buy from my link and I will earn a small amount if you use it. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

1.Physiopedia. Soft Tissue Healing.
2,3. Dr. Mirkin. Why Ice Delays Recovery.
4. Heat for Pain.