One of the most common questions that I get is also one of the most common thing that people get wrong. And it has to do with the choice between using ice or heat on heel pain and other injuries.hand over fire pit seeking heat

Now, many people default to putting heat on the injury. On the surface it makes sense. Warmth is soothing to injuries, so this choice feels good. The only problem is that it can make inflammation worse. I know that sounds crazy, but it's true. And to help you get on board with this fact, let's explore what heating and cooling can do to injuries.

What does heat do to an injury? 

When you heat an injured muscle, that causes your tissue to relax. Right after an injury, that could be a problem, because it could make stretched ligaments looser and more likely to tear. Once we've diagnosed and treated your immediate injury, though, heat can be helpful.

In fact, during your recovery period, we can use heat to increase blood flow to the sore spot. In turn, this could speed up healing in your muscle tissue.  Plus, when you apply heat to an injured area, it can reduce stiffness and offer pain relief. (That's why this treatment option is also a great choice if you have arthritis of the foot.)

Now, heating isn't just important for rehab situations. It can also be a great pre-hab tool. And that's why you'll see lots of athletes who heat stiff or sore muscles before pratices or game times. It helps get their muscles loose and fluid. Heck, heat before activity could even help prevent a sports injury. Especially if you heat a spot where you've sustained prior injuries

How to Apply Heat for a Sore Heel or Foot

Most often, we tell people to use heating pads. But while these seem pretty foolproof, you should keep in mind the following rules. First, don't apply heat for more than 20 minutes, but aim to keep your pad in place for at least 15 minutes to get your benefits.

Don't have a heating pad, or have diabetes and can't safely use a heating pad on your feet? Try taking a warm bath or shower, instead. Better yet, aim for a whole body heat-therapy sesh by immersing in a jacuzzi, as long as it's medically safe for you to do so.

What does ice do for an injury?

There's a good reason why we grab ice right away when you've bumped or twisted your foot or ankle. Basically, ice is a natural anti-inflammatory. When we apply it to an acute or chronic injury, such as an ankle sprain, plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendinitis, it cuts down inflammation.

As a result, you should feel some pain relief right away. That's why it's better to apply ice than heat when you first experience heel pain. There can only be benefits, and cooling a suspected injury won't make matters worse.


How to Use Ice for Heel PainIce is best for Houston heel pain

Like heat, you can apply ice to your sore heel all throughout the day. But, like heat, you should limit the application time. Aim for no more than 20 minutes in one icing session. And limit yourself to one icing session in every hour.

Of course, while it's easy to plug a heating pad into your desk for midday applications, icing at work isn't so simple. Unfortunately, ice is not very portable, especially in the heat of Houston.

Luckily, there's a pretty simple solution. You can try topical analgesics, such as Biofreeze, and use them in the place of ice. Unlike other topicals, there is no heat component to Biofreeze, so it only has an icing effect. The resul? With one application, you can reduce the inflammation and also enjoy an immediate analgesic effect.

Treating Heel Pain and Injuries in Houston, TX

As you can see by now, both ice and heat can play a role in addressing heel pain. But, because they work so differently on your sore feet, choosing when to apply each option matters a lot.

​​Right after a suspected injury, always reach for ice. Since heat could make your injury worse, it's simply the safer option. Pain relief and no chance of a downside? That's a no-brainer, in our book.

But just because ice should be your first choice for heel pain doesn't mean it's the only one. Instead, think about alternating between ice and heat once you know what kind of injury you're dealing with.

As long as we've diagnosed what's causing your heel pain, and ensured that heat won't make things worse? Go ahead and let ice and heat go hand-in-hand as part of your pain relief and recovery. Together, they can help you stay mobile, while reducing your pain and inflammation.

Of course, before you start your recovery, you have to get a clear understanding of why you're in pain. And to do that, you'll need to come into the office for a comprehensive foot exam. You may even need x-rays, to rule out a fracture. But we can do that all in the office. (You can even keep ice on your foot for pain relief. At least until we start your exam!)

Now, back to the initial question. Is ice or heat better for heel pain? Right after an injury, ice is always better. Later on, both can play an important role in your recovery. So, what does that mean in real life?

Here's the story: If you are suffering from heel pain, start icing right away. There is literally no downside to taking this action. After that? Contact Houston podiatrist Dr. Andrew Schneider to schedule an appointment. Together we will identify the source of your heel pain and develop a strategy to get the pain gone and keep it away. Most likely, that plan will include ice and heat. And it will take into account your preference. But until then, head for the freezer at the first sign of heel pain. It's the safest path to quick pain relief!