What is inflammation? How does ice reduce inflammation? These are great questions!

At some point, most people have experienced an injury that resulted in inflammation. More than likely it will happen again. Continue reading to learn about inflammation and how ice can be used to reduce swelling.

What is Inflammation?

When our bodies come across injured tissue or foreign material (think bacteria) inside the body the immune system kicks into overdrive. The immune system will then send out inflammatory cells to the injured area of the body. The job of the cells is to trap the bacteria and immediately begin the healing process in the tissues.

When the cells are hard at work, the most common symptoms can be pain, redness, swelling, and bruising. The swelling is a result of the tissues and blood vessels working to heal the affected area. There are two types of inflammations that we will discuss next.

Types of Inflammation

Acute Inflammation

The first type of inflammation is called acute inflammation. Which is the normal bodily response to an injury or pathogen. Most people will experience this from time to time as it is the immune system working correctly.

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Symptoms of acute inflammation is redness, swelling, pain, and heat at the injury site.

Chronic Inflammation

The second type of inflammation is called chronic inflammation. This is when the body sends out inflammatory cells to an area when there is no injury or pathogens detected. The most common example of this is rheumatoid arthritis.

Symptoms of chronic inflammation may be harder to spot because they aren’t as common as acute symptoms. Symptoms include abdominal pain, joint pain, fatigue, fever, and even skin rashes. These are a few but not all of the possible symptoms of chronic inflammation.

If you are experiencing pain, consult a doctor for further evaluation. Ice and heat can be used to decrease pain while waiting to be seen by a medical professional continue reading to see when to use each.

What to Use? Ice or Heat


The best rule of thumb is to use ice with acute (new) injuries such as sprains or strains. Usually when an injury occurs, ice is immediately applied via ice cubes, gel pack, ice packs, or even an ice bath.

Ice reduces swelling by constricting the blood vessels surrounding the injury. This allows for a decrease in pain, swelling, and even muscle spasms.


Heat tends to work best with chronic (ongoing) pain such as with stiffness and pain from arthritis. There are two ways to use heat: heating pads or moist heat.

Heating pads can be applied to the affected area. Be aware of the level of heat used to avoid burns. Moist heat is utilizing a shower, bath, or hot tub. These are all great ways to apply heat to reduce pain.

There are exceptions to the rule of thumb. Sometimes, if a muscle is overworked during an activity, applying heat will actually work wonders on relieving the soreness. This is because when heat is introduced to the area it increases blood flow which alleviates pain.

How to Ice an Injury

It is cruicial to know how to properly ice an injury to insure that you do not cause additional harm. Applying ice can be with an icepack, a gel pack, ice cubes, or even an ice bath.

It is important to time how long you are icing an injury and make sure not to place the ice directly on the skin because it can cause a burning sensation and damage the skin. Place an ice pack that is wrapped in a dish towel on the injured site for 15 – 20 minutes. Do not exceed 30 minutes at a time before taking at least 15 minutes of a break.

There is not a set amount of days that you should ice an injury. If it is reducing swelling and pain then you can continue to ice as you are healing. If pain continues after diagnosis, there are other treatments that can used to help.

Got Pain? Let Arizona Pain and Spine Institute Help

Whether you are experiencing acute or chronic pain due to inflammation, let Arizona Pain and Spine Institute help today! There are an abundance of injuries that can lead to pain and a variety of treatments to help. Contact us to schedule an appointment today!