Welcome to MacGill School Nurse Supplies!


When to Use Ice or Heat for an Injury or Illness

If you think about all the injuries and illnesses you’ve treated in your school nurse office, they probably run the gamut! From sprained ankles in gym class to toothaches to menstrual cramps. Your office is likely stocked with all the essentials to treat the variety of ailments you see on any given day, but do you hesitate before grabbing an ice pack or heating pad? Do you know when to use ice or heat for an injury or illness?

Not only do ice and heat offer different benefits, but it’s also important to consider the needs of the child you’re treating. Especially for younger children, there might be a certain comfort level with the temperature of an ice pack vs. a heating pad. Additionally, remember that caution should be used when introducing both heat and cold therapies to a diabetic child or a child with sensory disorders because he or she may not be able to feel pain in the area if too much heat or cold is being applied.

When to Use Ice & What to Know

 Ice should be used when pain is acute because it will:

  • Reduce blood flow to the area, which can significantly decrease inflammation and swelling that causes pain, especially around a joint or a tendon.
  • Temporarily reduce nerve activity, which also relieves pain.
  • Reduce bleeding.


Note that icing should never be done for more than 30 minutes at a time and should immediately stop if the injury appears bright pink or red.

Cold therapy tools include ice packs, gel packs, coolant sprays, or even ice baths. Remember that when you’re using cold therapy to avoid placing the treatment directly on the skin. Instead, wrap the ice pack in a towel or use an ice pack cover to better control the temperature.

When to Use Heat & What to Know

Heat should be used when pain is lingering because it will:

  • Increase blood circulation to the area, thus reducing joint stiffness and muscle spasms and providing relief to tight muscles.
  • Offer relief within 15 to 20 minutes (treatment can be continued for longer if needed).


Note that heat should not be applied to acute injuries, open wounds, or where swelling is involved because heat will draw more blood to the area.

Heat therapy tools include heating pads, heating packs, steamed towels, or even a hot bath or sauna. Keep in mind that the temperature for heat therapy should lean more toward “warm” than “hot” so as not to result in a burn.

MacGill stocks many different hot and cold therapy tools from instant relief to the old-school English-style ice cap. Click here to shop hot and cold therapy treatments.

Blog Sources & Continued Reading: Healthline, Johns Hopkins Medicine, Cleveland Clinic, Mechanisms and efficacy of heat and cold therapies for musculoskeletal injury

Post your comment