Heat Or Ice For Back Pain
Hot and cold therapy is a convenient and effective alternative method for pain relief, especially for back pain.
For most back injuries and chronic back pain cases, supportive methods are crucial because of the highly addictive nature of opioids and because pain medications aren’t sustainable in the long run.
In this article, we’ll talk about the many causes of back pain and how to manage it. We also aim to answer – is heat or ice better for back pain? .
When Not Use Hot Or Cold Therapy
You should never use hot or cold therapy solutions if you have any open wounds or any place where fluid is oozing out of an inflamed region.
You should also avoid it if you have chronic conditions like spinal cord injuries or rheumatoid arthritis.
Remember to speak to your doctor before undertaking any treatment just to be on the safe side.
About Author: Kirk Wessler
After being a writer for OSF HealthCare for three years, Kirk Wessler retired in January 2022. A Peoria native and graduate of Bradley University, Kirk’s experience included working for newspapers in Missouri, Texas and the Peoria Journal Star.Kirk and his wife, Mary Frances, have five sons, four daughters-in-law and nine grandchildren. Kirk plans to spend his retirement on the golf course, mastering the guitar and traveling.
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Better Together: Alternating Hot And Cold Therapy
Alternating hot and cold therapy offers benefits above and beyond ice or heat alone, although its important to avoid this treatment if you have an acute injury or certain medical conditions. For most people, contrast therapy offers an easy and cheap way to lower inflammation, loosen muscles, and enjoy natural pain relief.
Perseverance is key to effective contrast therapy. If youre seeing benefits, keep up the treatments until you are fully healed.
Cold Therapy Reduces Inflammation
Using ice on a fresh injury is not a new idea. In fact if youve ever fallen hard as a child, an adult likely immediately gave you an ice pack. This is to reduce the inflammation, swelling, pain, and redness associated with the injury. These are natural reactions to your body experiencing pain, however in excess these processes compress local tissue and cause more pain.
Using cold therapy not only reduces the pain by numbing the injury, but it also slows the blood vessel and reduces the fluid buildup at the site of the injury. By controlling the swelling, you will not only find that the injury is numbed, but you might find that it can help your injury heal a bit faster.
Cold therapy can be used to relieve the pain of an injury or to help speed the recovery of a rigorous exercise such as after a long run, swim, hike, or even sports play.
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How To Use Ice And Heat Therapy For Lower Back Pain
Using heat or ice therapy is often used as a preliminary treatment for back pain. By regularly adding heat or ice to the affected area, pain can often be relieved temporarily, and in some cases, for good. The best part of using ice or heat for back pain is that you can often do it with items already in your home. Read on to see why back pain occurs and how these tips can help you use ice or heat for your back pain relief.
When To Use Caution
Paraffin wax treatments supply moist heat but overheating can cause burns.
Wonder if its safe to use ice when youre burning up with fever? Theres nothing wrong with using cold to bring down a fever, says Dr. Kriegler.
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Treating Pain With Heat And Cold
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We treat everything from arthritis to pulled muscles to inflammation with ice packs or heating pads. Treating pain with hot and cold can be extremely effective for a number of different conditions and injuries, and easily affordable. The tricky part is knowing what situations calls for hot, and which calls for cold. Sometimes a single treatment will even include both.
As a general rule of thumb, use ice for acute injuries or pain, along with inflammation and swelling. Use heat for muscle pain or stiffness.
How To Apply Ice To Relieve Back Pain
This article was medically reviewed by Luba Lee, FNP-BC, MS. Luba Lee, FNP-BC is a board certified Family Nurse Practitioner and educator in Tennessee with over a decade of clinical experience. Luba has certifications in Pediatric Advanced Life Support , Emergency Medicine, Advanced Cardiac Life Support , Team Building, and Critical Care Nursing. She received her Master of Science in Nursing from the University of Tennessee in 2006.There are 11 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been viewed 97,420 times.
Experts say that back pain is extremely common, and most people will experience it at some point in their lives.XResearch source Research suggests that ice may help relieve back pain by stimulating your nerves, and it may also reduce swelling or inflammation around the painful area.XTrustworthy SourceHarvard Medical SchoolHarvard Medical School’s Educational Site for the PublicGo to source While there’s no proof that it will work for you, it’s usually safe to apply ice at home in a cold compress or during an ice massage. Back pain usually improves after a few weeks of self care, but talk to your doctor if your pain persists.
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So What Do You Do After A Back Injury
For back strain, people often use ice for the first 48 to 72 hours. Heat increases blood flow and inflammation, and it may not be a good idea at first
After those first few days, most experts recommend the use of either ice or heat, according to your preference. While researchers continue to look into the best ways to treat an acute injury, most doctors still recommend ice as the first line of defense for a back injury.
A 2011 review of studies published in the British Medical Journal Clinical Evidence evaluated 20 different categories of treatment to learn about their safety and effectiveness. Treatments included over-the-counter pain medications such as NSAIDs, acupuncture, McKenzie exercises , and temperature treatments.
The researchers were seeking answers to the following questions:
- What are the effects of oral drug treatments for acute low back pain?
- What are the effects of local injections for acute low back pain?
- What are the effects of non-drug treatments for acute low back pain?
As far as temperature studies go, the review found moderate-quality evidence that using a heat wrap 5 days after the injury may relieve pain. Just the same, the authors cited that overall they did not find enough evidence to judge the effectiveness of any type of temperature treatment.
When & How To Use Heat On Your Lower Back
Either dry or moist heat is used to loosen stiff or tight muscles and should only be applied to the lower back once initial swelling has decreased. This increases blood flow, bringing fresh oxygen and nutrients to the muscles, and it carries away waste productsall of which speed up healing and alleviate discomfort.
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What Precautions Should I Take When Using Ice And Heat Therapy
Do not use heat or cold packs:
- Over areas of skin that are in poor condition.
- Over areas of skin with poor sensation to heat or cold.
- Over areas of the body with known poor circulation.
- If you have diabetes.
- In the presence of infection.
Also, do not use ice packs on the left shoulder if you have a heart condition. Do not use ice packs around the front or side of the neck.
Ice causes a longer-lasting effect on the circulation than heat,. Also, the painkilling properties of ice are deeper and longer-lasting than heat.
Both heat and ice can be re-applied after an hour if needed.
How Do You Make Ice Packs
Ice packs can be made from ice cubes in a plastic bag or wet tea towel. A packet of frozen peas is also ideal. These mould nicely and can go in and out of the freezer. However, frozen vegetables should not be eaten if they have been thawed and re-frozen. Purpose-made cold packs can also be bought from pharmacies. Take care when using ice and cold packs from a deep freeze, as they can cause ice burns quickly if used without care and proper protection.
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Alternating Hold And Cold Therapy Benefits
Clearly, both ice and heat bring something to the table in terms of pain relief and healing. Sometimes, choosing one over the other simply may not provide enough relief, which is where contrast therapy comes in.
With this gentle method, you can simultaneously reduce inflammation, stimulate circulation, and loosen tight muscles, thereby easing your pain.
Types Of Lower Back Pain That Benefit From Heat Or Ice
- Chronic Conditions, such as: Herniated or Degenerated Discs, Spinal Stenosis, and Spondylolisthesis
- Sports injuries, sprains, falls, or something directly impacting your lower back
- Pulled back muscle from excessive strain or force
- Exercise induced muscle soreness from overdoing a specific exercise or exercising without warming up
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Alternating Ice And Heat Therapy: A Complete Guide 2022
There is a lot of buzz about the benefits of hot and cold therapies, BUT do you know how they work or when they work best? When exactly should you not be using it? Most importantly, what type of cryotherapy or thermotherapy is needed? Which one is suitable for your injury, considering the accidents intensity, location, and duration?
Alternating ice and heat therapy is the best and easiest way to treat swellings, pain, and injuries. You will learn about the benefits, how to do it, and safety precautions.
Well, you should know that they can be used simultaneously, for the same injury, on the same body part! This method is called contrast therapy. This technique involves alternating heat and ice for pain management, inflammation, swelling, and many other problems caused by the injury , medical condition, or overexertion.
Both hot and cold therapies have their pros as well as cons. Contrast therapy is considered a safe, reliable option and pretty affordable. The best part is that you can perform this low-risk and straightforward treatment at home for instant and medication-free relief. It is found equally effective for most of the pains.
We can say contrast therapy is a feasible and cheap solution to minimize inflammation along with relaxing muscles. Time to enjoy natural pain relief!
Remember: Perseverance is key to having an efficacious contrast therapy for complete healing.
When To Call Your Doctor
With these treatments, your pain should go away on its own. Call your doctor if you have any of these symptoms, because they could be signs of a bigger problem:
- The pain lasts for more than 3 days.
- It moves from your back to other parts of your body.
- You also have fever or loss of bladder or bowel control.
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How Does Heat Reduce Pain
Heat is an effective and safe treatment for most aches and pains. Heat can be applied in the form of a wheat bag, heating pads, deep heat cream, hot water bottle or heat lamp.
Heat causes the blood vessels to open wide . This brings more blood into the area to stimulate healing of damaged tissues. It has a direct soothing effect and helps to relieve pain and spasm. It can also ease stiffness by making the tissues more supple.
If heat is applied to the skin it should not be hot gentle warmth will be enough. If excessive heat is applied there is a risk of burns and scalds. A towel can be placed between the heat source and the skin for protection. The skin must be checked at regular intervals.
Heat should not be used on a new injury. It will increase bleeding under the skin around the injured area and may make the problem worse. The exception to this is new-onset low back strains. A lot of the pain in this case is caused by muscle spasms rather than tissue damage, so heat is often helpful. A large-scale study suggested that heat treatment had a small helpful effect on how long pain and other symptoms go on for in short-term back pain. This effect was greater when heat treatment was combined with exercise.
Heat is often helpful for the following types of pain:
- Aching muscles from over-exertion.
- Aching pains from fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions.
- Cramping or spasm pains such as period pains.
The Benefits Of Ice For Injury
The use of ice, or very cold temperatures, in a therapeutic capacity is known as cryotherapy. It is effective because it causes vasoconstriction, or narrowing of the blood vessels. The muscles contract, inflammation is lowered, and pain signals are reduced.
On the other hand, ice can make muscle tension and spasms worse.
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When To Use Heat Therapy For Back Pain
Is heat good for back pain? The answer depends on what type of back pain you are trying to address. If you are living with chronic pain or discomfort that lasts for more than four weeks, heat may help relax the tissues in the area and decrease pain signals. Heat can also encourage blood vessels in your back to dilate, which can promote healing.
When To Use Ice And When To Use Heat For Aches And Pains
No matter what your fitness level, everyone deals with aches and pains from time to time. From the rec-league warriors and high school athletes to fitness newbies, being active can come with aches, pains and sometimes injuries.
When you find yourself in pain, or groaning a little more than normal when you stand up, it can be a tough to know whether to use ice or to apply heat to get some relief. Heres some advice on what to do the next time you find yourself feeling a twinge.
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Use Heat To Encourage Healing
After your initial swelling and inflammation has subsided, heat therapy can be utilized to encourage healing in your lower back. The application of heat therapy stimulates blood flow to the area, which brings restorative oxygen and nutrients. Additionally, heat can inhibit the transmission of pain signals to your brain and decrease your stiffness.
There are two basic categories for heat therapy: dry and moist. Dry heat may leave your skin feeling dehydrated, but many people feel it is easier to apply. Heat therapy may be more difficult to apply, but it can aid in the penetration of heat into your muscles.
If you have diabetes, an open wound, or dermatitis it is best to avoid heat therapy altogether.
Can Heat Make Sciatica Worse
Applying heat to your back at the wrong time can make sciatica worse. Applying a heating pad or taking a hot shower can worsen your sciatica because heat can increase inflammation and cause fluid buildup. So, while heat does help promote healing after you treat the inflammation with cold therapy, it is not a substitute for cold therapy when you have acute pain.
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Total Body Immersion For Alternating Hot And Cold Therapy
Ice baths prevent injury and speed recovery, but be careful and always speak to your doctor before using immersion contrast therapy.
Also known as full body contrast therapy or a thermal workout, this involves soaking in a bath of ice or cold water and then switching to a tub of hot water, repeating the transition several times.
Obviously, this isnt practical for most peoplebut this type of contrasting can also be done by moving back and forth between a pool and a sauna or hot tub.
However, these types of therapies can be tiring, dehydrating, and even dangerous, particularly if you are an older adult or have health conditions such as heart disease or blood pressure issues.
Therefore, its strongly recommended to stick to local applications when using hot and cold therapy. If you wish to try total immersion therapies, be sure to consult your doctor first.
Which Is Best For You
- In regard to acute back pain, or pain you experience due to a direct injury, it is best to start with ice therapy. An acute injury is one that lasts less than a 4-week duration. By using ice first, you are lowering your bodys temperature which will reduce inflammation and swelling, constrict blood vessels and help numb the area. After doing ice therapy first, and once the inflammation has been reduced, switch to heat therapy. Using heat therapy will improve the flexibility of soft tissues, movement of muscles, and overall functionality of the injured area. Once youve changed to heat therapy, apply on and off for several hours, even days to continue improving your tissue.
- When addressing chronic back pain back pain that lasts more than a 4-week duration, you want to use heat therapy that provides constant warmth to the injured area. Examples of this include using a heating pad or a heating adhesive wrap that lays over the area, providing several hours of low-level heat therapy. When using this technique, make sure to monitor how long you are applying heat. Prolonged exposure to heat can lead to skin irritations and potentially skin damage.
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