Cold vs. Heat Therapy

Sports first aid often requires the use of heat and ice to ease the pain from injuries, but do you know which to apply when? Read on for more information.


A disposable ice pack is a must for any first aid kit at a sports ground. It should be used on acute injuries (those which occur immediately or fairly soon after an incident) to reduce the swelling and pain. Applying ice can also limit internal bleeding because it causes the blood vessels to constrict.

Ice should be applied for ten minutes at a time, leaving the skin to return to normal in between applications. It should be reapplied regularly for up to three days after the injury has occurred, and where, possible, you should buy ice packs which can conform to the body part to ensure maximum coverage (this is why frozen peas are so often used on TV!).


Heat therapy is more applicable to chronic injuries where there is no inflammation or swelling. It is particularly good for joint and muscle pain as it can help to relax the muscles and reduce spasming. It should only be used before exercise, however, because even existing injuries can become inflamed following a workout, at which point it is better to use cold therapy.

It is extremely important to avoid applying heat therapy to an acute or inflamed injury, as this can worsen the problem. Apply heat to chronic injuries only for up to 20 minutes at a time, ensuring that you will not burn the skin.