Should I Use Heat or Cold to Treat Shoulder Pain?


Are you tired of the persistent shoulder pain that's been holding you back? Don't worry, you're not alone. Shoulder pain is a common issue that can disrupt your daily activities and hinder your quality of life. That's why finding an effective treatment method is crucial.

In this article, we'll explore the benefits and drawbacks of both heat and cold therapy. We'll also discuss when to use each approach for shoulder pain, so you can make an informed decision. Say goodbye to shoulder pain and hello to a life with restored comfort and mobility. Let's dive in and discover the power of heat and cold therapy!


What is Heat Therapy?

Heat therapy involves applying warmth to the affected area to alleviate pain and promote healing. It can be achieved through shoulder heating pads, hot packs, and warm towels, which raise the temperature of the targeted region.

Should I Use Heat or Cold to Treat Shoulder Pain? 1

Benefits of Heat Therapy for Shoulder Pain

● Increased Blood Flow and Circulation: Heat therapy improves blood flow, delivering essential nutrients and oxygen to the shoulder, and aiding in healing.

● Muscle Relaxation and Spasm Reduction: Heat relaxes tight muscles, reducing spasms and relieving pain, (1) enhancing flexibility and range of motion.

● Promotion of Healing and Tissue Repair: Heat therapy boosts cell metabolism, facilitating tissue repair, (2) and collagen production, and minimizing scar tissue formation.


Disadvantages and Precautions of Heat Therapy

● Potential for Burns or Skin Irritation: Improper use of heat therapy can cause burns or skin irritation. Use a barrier between the heat source and skin, and avoid excessive heat and prolonged exposure.

● Unsuitable for Acute Injuries or Inflammation: Heat therapy should not be used for fresh injuries or acute inflammation, as it can worsen swelling. Cold therapy is generally preferred in these cases.

● Masking of Underlying Conditions: Heat therapy may temporarily relieve pain, potentially masking underlying conditions. Seek a proper diagnosis to address the root cause of shoulder pain.


When to Use Heat Therapy?

● To relax muscles and relieve muscle spasms in the shoulder.

● For chronic or long-term shoulder pain conditions to promote blood circulation and tissue healing.

● After acute injuries have healed, to aid in recovery and improve flexibility.

● Before engaging in gentle exercises or stretching routines to warm up the muscles.

For shoulder pain, short treatments of 15 to 20 minutes a day can be helpful, but for moderate symptoms, a longer treatment may be necessary. If you have chronic muscle pain, soaking in warm water for an hour or two can yield good results.

Ready to find soothing relief for your shoulder pain? Discover our collection of innovative shoulder heat pads now!


When Not to Use Heat Therapy?

● After physical activity, it can lead to overheating and potential tissue damage.

● When the area is numb, it may indicate nerve involvement and heat could worsen the condition.

● On open wounds or burns.

● Immediately after an acute injury, heat may increase inflammation and swelling.


What is Cold Therapy?

Cold therapy, also known as cryotherapy, involves the application of cold temperatures to the affected area for therapeutic purposes. This can be done using ice packs, cold compresses, or specialized cold therapy devices. Cold therapy works by constricting blood vessels and reducing blood flow to the area.


Benefits of Cold Therapy for Shoulder Pain

● Reduction of Inflammation and Swelling: Cold therapy helps to decrease inflammation (3) by narrowing blood vessels and limiting the release of inflammatory substances. This can alleviate swelling and promote healing in the shoulder.

● Numbing of Pain: The cold temperature numbs the area, providing pain relief and reducing discomfort associated with shoulder pain. It acts as a natural analgesic, (4) temporarily dulling the pain signals.

● Constriction of Blood Vessels, Reducing Blood Flow to the Area: Cold therapy causes vasoconstriction, narrowing the blood vessels and decreasing blood flow. This can help manage inflammation and prevent excessive swelling in the shoulder.


Disadvantages and Precautions Associated with Cold Therapy

● Tissue Damage or Frostbite: Prolonged exposure to cold therapy can lead to tissue damage or frostbite. It is crucial to follow the recommended application time and use a barrier between the cold source and the skin.

● Limited Effectiveness for Chronic Conditions: While cold therapy can provide temporary relief, it may have limited effectiveness in addressing chronic or long-term shoulder conditions. It is important to explore other treatment options for ongoing management.

● Not Suitable for Individuals with Certain Health Conditions (e.g., Raynaud's Disease): Cold therapy may not be suitable for individuals with conditions like Raynaud's disease, (5) where exposure to cold temperatures can trigger episodes of blood vessel spasms. In such cases, alternative therapies should be considered.


When to Use Cold Therapy?

● Immediately after an acute injury to reduce pain, inflammation, and swelling.

● During the initial stages of a new onset of shoulder pain or inflammation.

● After intense physical activity or exercise to aid in recovery and minimize post-workout inflammation.

● To manage chronic conditions characterized by swelling or inflammation.

To alleviate shoulder pain, apply ice or a cold pack for 10-20 minutes, with a thin cloth between the ice and your skin. After 3 days of ice treatment, switch to heat therapy using either a hot water bottle, a heating pad on low, or a warm, moist towel.


When Not to Use Cold Therapy (Ice)?

● Right before physical activity, as it can limit muscle performance and range of motion.

● In the presence of conditions like sympathetic dysfunction or vascular disease.

● When there are skin irritations such as open wounds, non-healing wounds, blistered or burned skin, or hypersensitivity to cold.

● If you experience cold-induced urticaria (hives) or have known allergies to colds.

Should I Use Heat or Cold to Treat Shoulder Pain? 2


Having shoulder pain can be challenging to work through. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for treating it, as it varies from person to person and injury to injury. Heat therapy has been found to help with chronic stiffness while cold therapy is recommended for acute pain and inflammation.

Ultimately, you should consider talking to your doctor before making any decisions on treatments, as this article is meant to provide you with general guidelines only. Regardless of the remedies you end up choosing, it's important to make sure that the intensity of either heat or cold isn't too overpowering for your body.

Everyone's needs are different, so be mindful of when the treatments are causing more harm than good. With all this information in mind, take a moment now to ask yourself: what therapies do I think will best serve my specific needs? Is it something that'd better suit heat applications or cold applications? We'd love to hear your thoughts -- comment below!



1. Ga M, N Y, J S. Mechanisms and Efficacy of Heat and Cold Therapies for Musculoskeletal Injury. Postgraduate medicine. Published January 1, 2015. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25526231/

2. ‌Kim K, Monroe JC, Gavin TP, Roseguini BT. Local Heat Therapy to Accelerate Recovery After Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews. 2020;48(4):163-169. doi:https://doi.org/10.1249/JES.0000000000000230

3. ‌Wang Y, Lu H, Li S, et al. Effect of cold and heat therapies on pain relief in patients with delayed onset muscle soreness: A network meta-analysis. Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine. Published online October 12, 2021. doi:https://doi.org/10.2340/jrm.v53.331

4. ‌Ernst E, Fialka V. Ice freezes pain? A review of the clinical effectiveness of analgesic cold therapy. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management. 1994;9(1):56-59. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/0885-3924(94)90150-3

5. ‌Musa R, Qurie A. Raynaud Disease. PubMed. Published 2023. Accessed June 28, 2023. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499833


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