How Heat and Cold Can Heal or Hurt You

When your body is cold, blood flow decreases; when it’s warm, blood flow increases. This simple mechanism can be easily manipulated to soothe pain, recover from injury and to help your body perform better in cold conditions.

Use Ice to Soothe Painful Injuries

After an acute injury, your body’s inflammatory response kicks in. The heat and pain you feel from inflammation are side effects of the body’s natural healing response, caused by chemicals that increase nerve sensitivity in the area, while swelling is caused by the increased movement of fluid and white blood cells.

Your instinct might be to grab the nearest pack of ibuprofen, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Inflammation is how your body heals, so it’s important not to inhibit it too much. Our recommendation at WLP is to avoid anti-inflammatories for the first 48 hours.

Of course, that advice is little comfort if you’re experiencing pain. Luckily, you can use ice packs to relieve the worst of symptoms without entirely inhibiting helpful inflammation. Applying an ice pack to the affected area for 10 minutes every one or two hours will reduce blood flow, relieving the swelling and pain.

For the first 48 hours after injury your regime should be rest, ice, compression and elevation. Once the pain has subsided, it’s time to put away the ice packs and get out the heat packs.

How Heat Gets You Moving

When you suffer an acute injury, the body stiffens tissue in the affected area to impede movement and prevent further damage. At first, you should obey your body, but eventually you will want to start moving again. If stiffness is not relieved and movement is not restored then you may start to experience muscle weakness, dysfunction or even degeneration in the affected area.

Though it will vary from injury to injury, generally after 48 hours you want to start reintroducing motion. This is where heat packs become very useful, as you can warm up the affected area with some precision, increasing the delivery of oxygen to your muscles and tendons, giving them the power they need to move again and eventually return to normal function.

Why It’s So Hard to Run on a Cold Day

When your body is cold, it reduces blood flow to your extremities and redirects it towards your vital organs so that they can maintain their optimal temperature. This evolutionary response is great at allowing us to survive in extreme conditions (perhaps at the loss of a few toes) but not so helpful if you want to keep up your running routine on a cold January morning.

This is why warm ups are essential and very literal. Some light cardio such as jogging on the spot or light weight lifting will warm up your body, relieving stiffness and increasing the delivery of oxygen to your extremities. Attempting your usual exercise routine on a cold day without a warm up will dramatically decrease your performance or even lead to injury from overloading unprepared muscles, ligaments or tendons.

That doesn’t mean you have nothing to worry about when the weather’s fine. Other than the obvious potential for dehydration, you also need to be careful of hypermobility. High temperatures cause your ligaments to become lax, making it easier for you to stretch. However, this may cause you to stretch too far and damage your ligaments, so be extra careful not to push beyond your usual range of motion when you’re active on a hot day.

I hope this blog helps you to use heat and cold to your benefit. If you’ve recently suffered an injury and need help recovering, book an appointment now by emailing  or calling 0207 937 1628 and we’ll get you back to normal, or even better.


Undine Ungerer

Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist

Get in touch with us today at or 0207 937 1628 to book your appointment.