I get asked this question most days, so I thought it would be best to write a short blog post on this area.
In the most basics terms you generally want to use ice on an acute injury when there is swelling and inflammation present. The main aim at this point is to reduce the inflammatory process. This will most likely be within the first 48 hrs of an injury occurring (although it may be a bit longer!)
Heat will most often be used on chronic problems or injuries where there is muscle spasm occurring. Never apply heat to an injury where there is still swelling and 'puffiness'.
There are occasions when heat will be used to treat chronic complaints, however its best to seek advice on this first. As always if in doubt please email me or call me first to discuss what the best action is.
A word of warning
When using ice be careful to cover your ice pack (or pack of peas) with a cloth. This will make sure you avoid ice burn or even worse, frostbite. Ice burn can occur fairly easily especially when icing areas such as the hands, feet or skin around the face.
I've see a couple of cases of ice burn first hand and it can leave some nasty blisters. When icing make sure you lift the ice pack every 2-3mins to check the skin is not reddening too much and avoid applying ice for longer then 15mins at a time.
For more information on when to use heat vs when to use ice click here.
Additionally click here for extra information on the dangers of over icing.