Heat or ice? What to use for minor injuries

Maybe you’ve sprained your ankle or pulled a muscle in your leg. Now what? If you have a minor injury, icing it as soon as possible will help relieve the pain and reduce swelling.

Ice (after an injury)

  • First, lightly massage the affected area with ice. Don’t let the ice sit in one spot and never apply ice directly to the skin. Use a towel or other barrier between you and the ice.
  • Elevate the injury above the heart to reduce swelling.
  • Always keep an eye on the clock. The amount of time to ice usually depends on the size and thickness of the body part (knees 15-20 minutes, fingers 5-7 minutes, etc.). Never ice an injury for more than 20 minutes as this can damage the tissues.
  • Allow your injury to warm up for about 45 minutes before icing again. Icing three to four times a day is usually sufficient after an injury.


Heat is rarely recommended after injury, as it typically worsens swelling; however, heat can be used to improve range of motion (ROM) before therapy.

After 48 hours, heat may be applied to the injury to stimulate blood flow and promote healing. You may also use heat to loosen the muscles if performing an activity that requires use of the affected area.

Information provided by
Guy Nicolette, MD, CAQSM
SHCC Associate Director, Clinical Services
Director, UF Sports Medicine Fellowship Program
Team Physician, UF Athletics