Hot & Cold Therapy for a Sprain or Strain

Although sprains and strains have similar symptoms, each injury affects a different part of the body. A sprain involves injuring the ligaments, while a strain involves injuring the muscles or tendons. Depending on the severity of the injury, most sprains and strains can be treated at home. Seek medical attention if you experience a fever or severe swelling or pain at the injured area.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.


A sprain involves overstretching or tearing the ligaments, or the connective tissue that holds your bones, cartilages and joints together. Common areas where a sprain occurs include the knee, ankle and wrist. The most common symptom of a sprain is swelling. In general, the more painful and swollen the injured area, the more serious the injury. Seek medical care if you are unable to move or put any weight on the injured area after two or three days, if you have a fever or if the injured area feels hot.


A strain involves overstretching or tearing muscles or tendons, or the connective tissue that attaches your muscle to your bones. Common areas where a strain occurs include the back and hamstrings. Strains have similar symptoms as a sprain, including swelling, pain and limited range of motion for the injured area. As with sprains, seek medical care if you are unable to move or put weight on the injured area after two or three days, if you experience numbness or if the area appears to be red.


According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, it is important to stay off or reduce the amount of weight put on the injured area for the first 24 to 48 hours after the injury occurs. If possible, use pillows or other props to elevate the injury above the heart. This practice will help reduce swelling. Wrap a bandage around the injured area to reduce swelling further. Ice the injured area four to eight times a day for no longer than 20 minutes at a time. Do not place ice or a cold pack directly onto skin; use a towel or other cloth as a barrier.


Heat is used to help increase blood circulation to stiff or sore muscles as well as to prepare your body for exercise. Once you are able to use or place weight on the injured area again, use heat therapy before starting any rehabilitation exercises. The heat may help make the injured area more flexible and may also help reduce pain. Never place a heating pad directly onto skin. Instead, place a warm, moist washcloth over the injured area for 10 to 15 minutes.