Should I Use Ice Or Heat Therapy To Reduce My Lower Back Pain
There are many types of therapies that can bring pain relief to our lower back. Ice and heat are some of the most commonly used at-home therapies, yet often overlooked due to their ease and accessibility.
It is important to know that the appropriateness and benefits of applying ice or heat can vary and that every situation is unique. Start with an understanding of the type of lower back pain you are experiencing and its cause. This will help you determine if and when ice or heat should be used in order to get the most benefit and reduce pain.
When To Use Heat Vs When To Use Ice For Lower Back Pain
Both heat and cold therapy are beneficial and can provide effective relief from lower back pain. If you are like many people, though, you might not know when to use heat vs. when to use ice for lower back pain to achieve the maximum benefit. If you are suffering from lower back pain, read on to discover whether you should be using heat or ice.
Dr David Julius Versus The Spice
The first of the Nobel proteins is often called the capsaicin receptor, because it reacts to the active ingredient in chili pepper. It was discovered by looking for the genes that cells need to make that receptor. His lab tested many genes, until they found one that could, when expressed in cultured cells, make them sensitive to capsaicin. It was 1997, and this was all much more difficult and tedious back then.
This proteins true and full name is Transient Receptor Potential Cation Channel Subfamily V Member 1, or TRPV1 for short. And it doesnt just respond to spice. It also responds to scalding heat which is why spicy and hot are literally the same sensation, just with different significance. The day that was noticed, someone in that lab surely said, loudly, Holy shit! Probably all of them. Thats how scientists say eureka these days.
Its weird and fun that this one receptor detects two kinds of heat.
And TRPV1 has more tricks up its intricately folded sleeve. Its a gifted protein that also reacts to the active ingredients in mustard and wasabi, to acidic conditions, to inflammatory molecules, and to some cannabinoids, like anandamide .
So what does TRPV1 do? Lots.
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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Where To Buy A Heat/cold Compress As Big As Your Back
Dreading the thought of seeking out ice and heat packs for injury care? This large hot and cold back wrap that comes with two gel packs simplifies injury treatment.
It is specifically designed to provide concentrated cold/hot therapy to your sore or injured back, with the added benefit of compressing and supporting your mid- to low-back.
You can put the low-profile wrap on under or on top of your clothes. The belt-like product makes it easy for you to ice or heat your back on the go, and its lightweight foam material is soft and breathable.
Without it, you may be stuck lying on your stomach for long periods each day with an ice pack or heating pad. Sticking to a regular ice/heat therapy schedule leads to faster and more lasting results.
This hot/cold therapy belt has pockets for two non-toxic gel pads, which come with your purchase. You can also buy extra gel packs so you dont have to wait as long for an ice pack to refreeze. Both reusable ice packs are freezer and microwave safe.
Heat Therapy For Back Pain
Heat therapy helps to promote blood circulation and tissue healing, as well as working to activate and keep muscles moving. After a day or two of using an ice pack, you could switch to use a heat pack.
Also, heat packs may help you first thing in the morning. If you wake up with a stiff or achy back, a heat pack may help warm up your mobiles and increase mobility.
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Types Of Heat Therapy
Types of heat therapy include:
- applying safe heating devices to the area. Many heat products are available for purchase online, including electrical heating pads, hot water bottles, hot compress, or heat wrap.
- soaking the area in a hot bath, between 92 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit or 33 and 37.7 degrees Celsius
- using heated paraffin wax treatment
- medications such as rubs or patches containing capsicum, available for purchase online.
Heat packs can be dry or moist. Dry heat can be applied for up to 8 hours, while moist heat can be applied for 2 hours. Moist heat is believed to act more quickly.
Heat should normally be applied to the area for 20 minutes, up to three times a day, unless otherwise indicated.
Single-use wraps, dry wraps, and patches can sometimes be used continuously for up to 8 hours.
Best Muscle Stimulators For Back Pain: Top 5
Migraines, back pain, and many other medical problems are often related to muscle aches. Using a muscle stimulator can help ease your pain as it minimizes the discomfort and promotes better circulation. Back pain can be treated naturally with massage and physical therapy treatments. A muscle stimulator is an alternative, and it can help relieve the pain associated with a backache by stimulating the muscles in the body.
Heat In A Tube: Mild Spice Therapy
Ointments and balms like Tiger Balm, RUB A535, Deep Heat, Zostrix and many others are not actually hot, but literally feel like it, because they stimulate the TRPV1 receptors that also respond to scalding heat.
Other than contextual clues, our nervous systems literally have no way of telling the difference. A little capsaicin feels like a mild burn, like the early stages of a sunburn.
That can feel nice to us.
These burning sensations are widely regarded as therapeutic! The rationale for this is not immediately obvious, and the popularity of these remedies precedes our comprehension of TRPV1 ion channels by most of human history. But its also still not clear that we understand if or why they are helpful.
They can feel nice though. They are indeed warming. And humans do like a bit of that. Heat rarely works miracles for any kind of pain but I would also never want to give it up as an option. Mild spice therapy is perfectly justifiable in that spirit.
When Not To Use
There are certain cases where heat therapy should not be used. If the area in question is either bruised or swollen , it may be better to use cold therapy. Heat therapy also shouldnt be applied to an area with an open wound.
People with certain pre-existing conditions should not use heat therapy due to higher risk of burns or complications due to heat application. These conditions include:
Heat therapy is often most beneficial when used for a good amount of time, unlike cold therapy, which needs to be limited.
Minor stiffness or tension can often be relieved with only 15 to 20 minutes of heat therapy.
Moderate to severe pain can benefit from longer sessions of heat therapy like warm bath, lasting between 30 minutes and two hours.
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When To Use Both Heat & Ice Called: Contrast Therapy
You can use ice and heat separately, or in some cases, together, which is known as contrast therapy. The key to contrast therapy is to start with heat and finish with ice. This has to do with the dilation and constriction of blood flow to the injured area.
You want to start with dilating the blood vessels with heat, followed by constriction of blood vessels with the ice. This works to create a pumping effect. which promotes healing of the area. Contrast therapy is generally used after the first 72 hours, before you start to apply heat on its own.
How To Loosen Tight Lower Back Muscles Using Heat Therapy
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The Proteins Of Danger
Being an organism is perilous. Every living thing needs to know when its being poked, specifically and especially whether or not it is being done too hard. We also have to know when its too hot or too cold. Pressure and temperature detection are about as elementary as sensation gets. Many simple organisms can do as much, even the ones that have only a single cell.
Extremes of pressure and temperature are usually experienced as an alarm as pain ideally before any damage is done.
Of course we also need to know when its too late and weve actually been damaged nothing is more dangerous than already being hurt . And these receptors are partially involved in that too. For instance, TRPV1 also reacts to inflammation.
Almost everything biology has eighteen jobs.
TRPV1 also detects spice. Which is not threatening, but absolutely can feel like it. But spiciness is not for the birds which is why the plants use it! An explanation of that weird sentence below.
Also: How hot can you take your bath? How can the same pressure be bliss for one person and torture for another? Finally I will track the biological oddity of spicy heat to a cool clinical question: can we exploit the nature of TRPV1 receptors to treat pain?
Should I Use Ice Or Heat How To Choose
Ice or heat: Which is better for an injury? We could fill pages with all the different scenarios where you might have to decide whether to use heat or ice to treat pain. But, as a general rule of thumb, we recommend this: If its bleeding or swelling, start with ice.
Depending on the extent of the injury, you may also want to go ahead and call your doctor. But, if you opt to wait, use ice for 48 hours. Then, if its still swollen and painful, definitely make a doctors appointment. This rule holds true even if you suspect you have injured a muscle.
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What Is Heat Useful For
Heat is useful for relieving:
- tendonitis, or chronic irritation and stiffness in the tendons
- warming up stiff muscles or tissue before activity
- relieving pain or spasms relating to neck or back injury, including the lower back
In 2006, a team of researchers found that patients with lower back pain who exercised and use continuous low-level heat wrap therapy experienced less pain than those who did not use CLHT.
Previous studies had shown that, for some people, CLHT relieved pain more effectively than oral analgesics, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen.
However, the effectiveness of heat treatment may depend on the depth of the tissue affected by the pain or injury.
Some people use heat treatment, often in the form of a hot bath, to stave off DOMS.
There is some evidence that this might help, but heat that is applied for only 5 to 20 minutes may be less effective, as does not have the chance impact the deeper levels of tissue.
Some researchers have that moist chemical heat packs, which can be used for 2 hours, may be the best way to prevent DOMS through heat treatment.
How Does Heat Therapy Work
In general terms, using a heated back brace or soaking in a warm tub brings a lot of therapeutic benefits. For most people, heat is comforting, relaxing and reassuring.
Chronic pain goes hand-in-hand with sensitization, anxiety, tension, and hypervigilance. Applying comfortable heat to your stiff back muscles or relaxing in a sauna can soothe an over-stressed nervous system.
More scientifically speaking, heat can help your blood vessels to dilate, allowing blood to flow more freely. This helps with the removal of toxins and encourages healing.
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Two Reasons Heat Is Good For Back Pain
Our team knows that heat therapy can be helpful for many conditions, but we know that heat is especially good for back pain. While there are many reasons for this, our team typically focuses on two of the reasons when explaining why heat therapy works for back pain.
The first reason we focus on in our explanation to back pain patients is that heat may help relieve muscle tension. Our team can tell you that there are many muscles in your back that help support your spine. We also know that these muscles are what allow your spine to bend and flex as you move. However, you may have lost your ability to move your spine comfortably if youve injured one of your back muscles. This is because damaged muscles often become tense when people try to hold them rigid to counteract the pain. Unfortunately, this rigid muscle posture often has the opposite effect of increasing your back pain. Using heat therapy, our team may be able to reduce the tension you have in your back muscles, and this may also help reduce your back pain.
For these two reasons, and others, heat therapy is good for back pain, and our therapy team often uses it in treatment plans for back problems. If youre ready to find out if heat therapy may benefit you, theres a simple step you can take.
Contact our team today for more information or to schedule an initial appointment.
Start With Cold Therapy For Acute Back Pain
If youve had your back pain for four weeks or less, using cold therapy initially is likely your best bet. By bringing the temperature down, you can constrict blood vessels and simultaneously minimize swelling and information. Youll be left with a numbing effect that hopefully offers relief.
Once youve noticed an improvement in your inflammation, transition to heat therapy. The heat can help with flexibility, muscle movement, and overall functioning. It will deliver nutrients to the injured tissues and allow you to feel better.
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Heat Reduces Pain Caused By Stiffness
Heat application facilitates stretching of the soft tissues around the spine, including muscles, connective tissue, and adhesions. Consequently, regular heat therapy on the back typically provides:
An overall feeling of comfort sets in and daily activities seem less difficult when lower back stiffness is relieved.
Heat Therapy And Cold Therapy To Help Back Pain
Heat therapy and cold therapy are two sides of the same coin. Heat therapy uses warm water or heating pads to relieve muscle pain, while cold therapy uses ice or cold water. In certain situations, using heat therapy and cold therapy can help relieve pain and promote healing.
For new or acute pain like pain caused by a fall or other pain that shouldnt last beyond six weeks cold therapy can be a great way to reduce swelling, decrease inflammation and numb pain.
For chronic pain pain thats expected to last or has lasted for more than six weeks heat is usually the temperature of choice for soothing pain and stimulating the healing process.
You might benefit from both hot and cold therapy. For instance, after exercise, immediate cold therapy can reduce muscle soreness. After 24 hours, switching to heat therapy can help your muscles heal faster.
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What To Use: Heat Or Ice For Sciatica
Ice and heat can be a great idea to reduce nerve pain associated with sciatica. Applying an ice pack for sciatic nerve pain in a circular motion helps relieve pain by creating a feeling of coldness, which progresses to a slight burning or tingling sensation, followed by numbness. Once the numbness occurs, take the ice pack off the pain site to avoid frostbite.
Heat therapy, on the other hand, relieves sciatica pain by promoting tissue healing. Heat therapy is best used after the nerve pain is calmed down by an ice pack. This initial pain flare-up causes inflammation which may worsen with the heat pad. Thus, it should be controlled with cold therapy first.
The Proteins Of Pain Scalding Heat And Spicy Heat And How We Might Be Able To Exploit Them Therapeutically
How do physical stimuli turn into sensations? How exactly do we turn whats around us into nerve impulses? Transduction is one of my favourite concepts in biology: the conversion of forces into electricity. We are all familiar with transduction in outline. For instance, we know that photons strike cells in our retina and trigger nerve impulses. But exactly how does that kind of thing work?
Some of these mechanisms remain unsolved mysteries of molecular biology, but others are now almost well understood. David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian just shared the Nobel for Medicine or Physiology for their discovery of proteins that transduce some basic stimuli into nerve impulses. Its all dizzyingly complex, of course, but it can be oversimplified down to this: they enable us to detect heat, cold, and pressure.
And this all about pain, too. Because extremes of temperature and force are dangerous! So these proteins are also the most basic components of our alarm systems.
These discoveries are only about ten to twenty years old, and have been followed by many more like them, the dawn of a much more detailed science of sensation.
Guido4, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Let the digression begin
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