Tips For Applying Hot and Cold Pain Relief

First Aid: When to Apply Hot or Cold to an injury

Band-Aids at the ready. Check.

A fully outfitted first aid kit complete with gauze, antiseptic, rubber gloves and more. Check.

Bag of peas in the freezer. Check.

Heating pad in the linen closet. Check.

Moms tend to know exactly when to clean a scrape and pop a Band-Aid on it or when a cut runs too deep to treat at home and head into the Urgent Care.

But when it comes to sprains and strains, kids suffering from pain recurring from an earlier injury, or other physical complaints that you can’t see the cause of, many are not sure when to use heat and when to use ice. And many aren’t aware of the different types of hot and cold treatments you can use at home.

Heat and ice are both effective tools to provide short-term pain relief. The following guidelines should help you determine what you need.

Heat increases circulation and relieves stiffness in joints and muscles, making it easier to exercise. Heat is generally recommended for fifteen to twenty minutes over one area.

Do not sleep with a heating pad or use heat over tissue that also has had topical analgesic creams applied.  Heat should not be used when there is acute joint swelling or over warm joints.

Types of heat applications recommended for home use include:

 A microwavable hot pack: available at large drug stores. Use a damp towel between the hot pack and the skin.

Microwave a wet hand towel or facecloth in a plastic bag, then wrap with a damp towel.

Electric, moist heating pad.  

Paraffin wax baths: if these are used at home you should purchase a commercial paraffin bath designed for home use. They are available at stores such as Target; Bed, Bath & Beyond; and CVS.

Warm showers.

Cold relieves pain and muscle spasm. Generally, apply cold packs for 10-minutes at a time.

Commercial ice packs are available at drug stores. At home, use a package of frozen peas or corn wrapped in a damp towel.

Make your own cold pack with ¼ cup of rubbing alcohol, ¾ cup of water, and 2 Zip-loc sandwich-size freezer bags.

Put water and alcohol in a Zip-loc bag. Push out bubbles and zip up. Seal this inside the second bag and freeze. Wrap a damp towel and apply for ten minutes to the sore area.

These at home tricks can help Dr. Mom alleviate pain and worry but always consult a physician if you are not sure.  In Richmond, all 12 Tidewater Physical Therapy offer a 10 minute complimentary injury screening by a licensed Physical Therapist.  Theses screenings are designed for people who are experiencing pain or some sort of injury. 

Article was written by Jessica Myers, PT, DPT, MPH, CMTPT, CSCS, FMSC is the Clinical Director of the Tidewater Physical Therapy Powhatan location in Richmond. To learn more about Tidewater Physical Therapy or to make your own appointment with a physical therapist, visit

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