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Using Heat and Ice at Home

This is a chart showing different regions of the body with maximum time intervals in minutes.

Looking at the chart you can see you should limit the use of ice or heat to the head and neck to 5 minutes maximum per application. After you remove the cold or heat therapy wait to reapply in the same area for at least as long as you applied it.

  • For example, if you left heat on a spasm in your shoulder for the maximum of 10 minutes and it started to feel better, wait at least 10 minutes before you put it back on if it starts to spasm again. You may repeat this process as many times as necessary or until it stops helping.
  • If you repeat in the same area 4 or more times you should seek some other form of treatment.

For the patients I have advised to do these and anyone else at home wanting to use an ice pack or heating pack here are a few pointers on how to get the best results and avoid actually aggravating the problem.

Should I use ICE or HEAT?

  • Usually if the area of pain is hot, swollen or throbbing you should try ice first.
  • If it is cold, tight or in spasm try heat first.

NEVER put heat or cold over an open wound. Seek medical attention for the wound and follow care instructions from the physician.

Always have a barrier between you and the heat or cold.

  • This could be a clean paper towel or t-shirt between your skin and the ice pack. Monitor every once in a while to make sure the area is not turning bright red, blue or black as these can be signs of freezer burn or worse. If this happens stop use immediately and contact a physician for instructions. Some items you purchase for use may have a barrier cloth or bag included.

What if ice always hurts or heat always hurts?

  • Do not continue use of either if it causes new pain or increases your current pain level.
  • You can try the one that does not hurt, but if there is no relief seek other treatment options.

What can I use to apply heat or ice?

  • For a cheap and easy way to make a heat applicator at home take an old sock.  Fill it most of the way with rice and tie off the open end securely or sew it shut.  When you need to warm it up throw it in the microwave for about 60 seconds on high.  It will keep warm for a good while. If it won’t stay warm long enough just use the other sock to make a matching pair.  Always test your rice bag to see how hot it gets in different microwaves. If it is too hot use less time and/or use a barrier between yourself and the bag until it cools enough to remove the extra barrier.
  • For an ice pack you can buy a gel pack from the pharmacy and leave it in your freezer until you need it, or you can fill a clear plastic zip bag with ice from the freezer. Wrap it in a clean, thin dish cloth or clean paper towel and apply to the area of pain.

See Page 2 for the Plank Exercise, Page 3 for the Doorknob Squat, Page 4 for the Side-Plank Exercise, Page 5 for how to make a “Peanut” roller

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