When to Use Ice and Heat During Stages of Inflammation

Many clients ask us when it’s best to use ice and heat on their sores muscles and injuries. Both have their benefits and are especially useful at various stages of inflammation during tissue repair. It is key to know how old your injury is and when it started as well as where you should be applying the heat or ice.

Stage 1: Acute Injury (3-5 days post-Injury)

This stage marks the immediate cellular response to tissue injury and repair with swelling, redness, pain and tenderness to the affected areas. There is also noticeable decrease in range of motion of joints at this phase. The main goal of healthy tissue healing in this phase is to decrease inflammation and swelling. So what should be used in the Acute phase?


Apply ice until the area is just stating to feel numb (no more than 20 minutes). Make sure to use a barrier like a dishrag between the ice pack and your skin. Frozen bags of veggies like peas and carrots work very well too because they can move to fit around the area of your injury!

Stage 2: Subacute (3 days- 8 weeks post-injury)

This stage is where cellular regeneration causes new collagen to form and repair the injured tissues. There will be less pain and swelling in the phase but there could be pain when stretching the injured tissues. The main outcome to aim for with this phase is for healthy tissue repair with the least amount of scar tissue as possible. So, what should be used in the subacute phase?

Ice and heat!

This can be a tricky one depending on how your body is reacting to the injury. If there is significant redness and swelling, continue to apply ice like described during the Acute phase. If swelling has decreased or there is pain with movement beyond normal range of motion, apply a heat pack for up to 20 minutes at a time. You can also alternate between ice and heat in this phase.

Phase 3: Chronic (8 weeks+ post-injury)

This stage of inflammation is where continuous healing of the tissues occurs. This can last up to several years post-injury and is typically when many massage patients receive massage for their symptoms. Reducing scar tissue formation is key in this phase to ensure than the tissues can heal as much like the uninjured tissues as possible. There may be aching in this stage of inflammation, much there is usually a significant increase in range of motion of the tissues. So, what should be used in the stage of inflammation?


Heat helps reduce scar tissue formation and relieves the aching caused by the chronic stage of inflammation. Apply heat as described in the Subacute stage of inflammation as needed and receive at least 1 massage a month to reduce scar tissue formation.