first aid pro brisbane

Brisbane's #1 in First Aid Courses

Brisbane's #1 in Nationally Accredited First Aid Courses

Sprains: When To Use Ice Or Heat For Pain


Table of Contents

Sudden pain in your ankle, shoulder, or calf can make your mind race with possibilities: Is it torn tissues? Broken bones? Or a Sprain?

Sprains heal more quickly with the right care, but at the moment, it can be challenging to know what procedure to use to treat the injury immediately. Ice or Heat?

Here are some tips and answers to help you take the best actions next time you suffer from sprains.

What Is A Sprain?

A sprain is a soft tissue injury of the ligaments within a joint (torn ligament). This can happen due to events that cause stress to a joint and overstretch (or even rupture) the supporting ligaments. A sprain mostly occurs after the body suffers from a sudden fall, twist, or blow.

There are three grades of sprain: mild, moderate, and severe.

  • A Mild Sprain is when a ligament is stretched, but the joints remain stable and not loosened.
  • A Moderate Sprain is a partial tear of the ligament, causing the joint to be unstable.
  • A Severe Sprain is where the ligaments are completely torn or separated from the bone.

Although sprains vary in intensity and degree, all soft tissue injuries commonly cause pain, swelling, bruising, and inflammation. The ankle is the most common joint to suffer from this injury, more likely if you’ve had a sprain before.

Without receiving the right care, repeated sprains can lead to arthritis, a loose ankle, or tendon injury.

Sprain Treatments: Ice Or Heat?

Knowing exactly when to use ice or heat treatment can shorten recovery time and help relieve muscle aches, pain, and stiffness.

Treating a soft tissue injury can be tricky as sprain treatment have no one-size-fits-all. In some cases, both ice and heat therapy play a crucial role in the recovery process.

Ice Treatment

A rule of thumb for most injuries is “Ice first, heat later.”

Ice should be applied to acute injuries as soon as they occur. The application of ice will help reduce the swelling, and exposing the injured tissue to colder temperatures will also prevent further damage.

Use an ice pack wrapped in a clean cloth to reduce pain and swelling around the injury. Apply it for 20 to 30 minutes and take a break in between. Try to do this treatment for a minimum of four times a day, but some injuries will need it at least once every hour.

Benefits of ice: Reduces swelling, pain, and inflammation and helps with muscle cramps and spasms. Best used after pain-producing injury.

Heat Treatment

Once the pain is gone, it is time to use heat therapy.

After about three or more days (depending on the injury), you can put heat on the injured muscles to warm up the area. This makes it easier for you to walk and get around during the day.

There are several products in the market that can penetrate deep tissues for effective heat treatment. A heating pad is a good example of that.

A heating pad is a dry heat source that is more effective for treating denser muscle tissues (such as quadriceps). When applying heat, it is important to keep the temperature level at average to minimise the risk of burns.

Apply heat for at least 15 minutes and put a barrier between the hot pad and your skin. Let the skin go back to its normal temperature before using heat again.


In general, ice treatment is best used for new injuries, whereas heat applications are more appropriate for treating 3-day-old sprains and other chronic conditions.

Check out our blog for information about first aid treatment for sprains, such as the RICE method and other techniques.

Find out more in a first aid training course.

Popular Posts
Recent Posts