Ice therapy for pain

Ice Packs

Ice therapy for pain

A question that osteopaths frequently hear is whether to use ice or heat treatment to help manage pain. The answer will always depend on the patient and the type of injury or pain that they are experiencing. The general rule of thumb is to use ice for acute injuries, pain, inflammation and swelling, whilst using heat for muscle pain or stiffness. Treating pain with hot and cold therapy can be extremely effective for several different conditions and injuries, and it is affordable. The difficult part is knowing what situations calls for hot, and what calls for cold. An osteopath will be able to tell you which treatment would be appropriate for your condition.

following on from our previous blog “Heat therapy for pain”, this blog discusses the application and benefits ice therapy.

Ice or cold therapy also called cryotherapy, aims to reduce blood flow to the affected area, to reduce the inflammation and swelling that can cause pain, specifically around a joint or tendon. Cold therapy is also used to temporarily reduce and nerve activity in an affected area, as this can help to relieve pain.

When ice is applied to the body it slows down the movement of fluid in the affected area. the blood vessels constrict and become narrower reducing the amount of blood flow to the area. Therefore it is effective in preventing or reducing swelling or inflammation.

There are many ways in which ice therapy can be applied, and treatment options include:

Other types of cold therapy that are sometimes used when administered by a professional include:

  • cryostretching, which uses cold to reduce muscle spasms during stretching.
  • cryokinetics, which combines cold treatment and active exercise, as it can be useful for ligament sprains, and
  • whole-body cold therapy chambers.

People who have sensory disorders or altered sensation to temperature, that prevent them from feeling certain sensations should not use cold therapy at home as they may not be able to feel if damage is being done. This also includes diabetics, as nerve damage due to the diabetes can reduce sensitivity. Cold therapy is also not to be used on stiff muscles and joints. If you have poor circulation, you should avoid ice therapy.

When at home and wanting to use ice therapy, apply an ice pack wrapped in a towel or ice bath to the affected area. You should never apply a frozen item directly to the skin, as it can cause damage to the skin and tissues. It is best to apply ice treatment as soon as possible after an injury has occurred.
Cold therapy for short periods of time, several times a day. Intervals of 10 to 15 minutes is adequate, and no more than 20 minutes of cold therapy should be used at a time to prevent nerve, tissue, and skin damage. For best results keep the affected area elevated both when applying ice therapy and when not using the treatment.

If the treatment has not eased your symptoms after regular use after a few days, consult your GP or osteopath to discuss other treatment options.

Osteopathy is a complimentary form of treatment that can be used alongside other forms of treatment such as physiotherapy. At OsteoVision, our musculoskeletal specialists are trained to treat a wide range of conditions. Please contact us if you would like to discuss your symptoms, would like to book an appointment, or require more information about pain management or heat therapy. Our team is always on hand and happy to assist you.

Call:     03303 904 300


You can also book an appointment online at

Callahan, M., 2020. Should I be using heat or ice treatment for my pain? – East Gippsland Osteopathic Clinic. [online] East Gippsland Osteopathic Clinic. Available at: <> [Accessed 28 December 2021].

Marcin, J., 2019. Treating Pain with Heat and Cold. [online] Healthline. Available at: <> [Accessed 28 December 2021].