Should I Use Ice or Heat on My Running Injury?

Woman with ice pack on knee
Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images

"After a recent run, my shins started to hurt. One running friend told me to ice them, but then someone else told me to put heat on them. What's the best pain relief?"

Applying ice or heat can provide relief when you're dealing with a running injury. For different types of injuries, though, you should use these treatments at different times. Here's a guide to when to use hot or cold therapy:


When to Use: If you have a tender or tight spot that's been bothering you for a little while, applying heat before you run or do another form of exercise can help loosen your muscle and relax the area.

What to Use: Use a heating pad (available at most drugstores) or a towel soaked with hot water.

How Long: Before you head out for a run, apply heat for 5 to 10 minutes.


When to Use: Use ice immediately after sustaining an acute injury, such as a sprain. Ice should also be used when you've re-aggravated a chronic injury, such as plantar fasciitis or shin splints. An ice bath can also help with muscle recovery after running a marathon or long training run.

What to Use: You can use an ice pack (a plastic bag filled with ice; a bag of frozen vegetables; or even a frozen water bottle, which is especially good for pain on the bottom of the foot). Make sure that you place a towel between the ice and your skin -- don't apply it directly.

How Long: Ice for 15 to 20 minutes for three to five times a day, if possible. For acute injuries, ice the first 24 to 48 hours after the injury. For chronic injuries, ice when you've re-aggravated the injury and are feeling pain.