It’s one of our most frequently asked questions. For muscle and joint pain, what’s best—heat or ice? As in much of medicine, the answer—it depends.
First, it’s important to make the distinction between treating the problem and the symptoms. For the most part, heat and ice work on symptoms. It’s been studied and some research suggests a therapeutic benefit, but those results are very limited and not well established.
Neither will do much to mitigate the cause of the pain. But for a pulled muscle, back spasms, twisted ankle or soreness after intense activity—ice or heat can help you feel better. And there’s a third option: nothing. Sometimes it’s best to just leave it alone.
Let’s break it down.