Best Practices: How To Ice Your Back
Use Caution If Youre Pregnant
If youre pregnant and have back pain, its safe to use a heating pad. You should avoid prolonged exposure since overheating can be dangerous to a fetus. It can lead to neural tube defects or other complications.
Since heating pads decrease pain signals and increase circulation, use the pad soon after developing painful flares or stiffness to speed the healing process.
A Simple Guide For When To Use Heat Or Cold Therapy To Treat Lower Back Pain
Many people worldwide suffer from lower back pain, regardless of age, activity level, diet, or overall health. It is a very common condition brought about by anything from the type of job you have to a car accident.
In addition to over-the-counter and prescription pain medication, heat and cold therapies are effective ways to reduce lower back pain. However, the effects of each treatment are different, and they work best in specific situations.
Heres how and when to use either hot or cold therapy for your lower back pain.
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Can I Use Heat Therapy
Heat therapy can be very beneficial, especially in cases where people are suffering from chronic pain. It is relatively easy and inexpensive to use and typically provides quick, noticeable results. However, it is important to note that heat therapy can be dangerous if you have a preexisting health condition, such as dermatitis, diabetes, vascular disease, multiple sclerosis or deep vein thrombosis. Individuals with heart disease or hypertension also should avoid it. If you are pregnant, youll want to talk with your doctor before using a sauna or hot tub for heat therapy.
While we briefly mentioned it before, its also important to note you should avoid using heat therapy if your pain is coming from an open wound or an area of your body thats swollen or bruised. Its just not the right treatment for these issues and could potentially cause problems because there are certain conditions such as swelling where it may not be good to increase circulation to the affected area.
How Long Does It Take For A Nerve To Repair Itself
Regeneration time depends on how seriously your nerve was injured and the type of injury that you sustained. If your nerve is bruised or traumatized but is not cut, it should recover over 6-12 weeks. A nerve that is cut will grow at 1mm per day, after about a 4 week period of ârestâ following your injury.
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How To Loosen Tight Lower Back Muscles Using Heat Therapy
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? .
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How Do I Prevent Sciatica
If you currently have a herniated disc or bone spur, consider taking measures to prevent sciatica pain. To do so, build your low back and abdominal muscles. These muscles support your spine and are crucial to healthy alignment. You can also practice good posture and avoid long periods of sitting or standing, as these activities place pressure on your lower back.
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Ice Or Heat For Back Pain: Which Is Better
If you are struggling with back pain, you may wonder whether ice or heat is better to treat it. Its a tricky question to answer, because it depends on what is causing your back pain and where the pain is located. Either heat or ice may be better for some back pain, and actually be detrimental to other pain.
Before we continue to unpack whether ice or heat is better for back pain, its important to remind you that the best advice will come from your doctor, who will have the best understanding of what may be behind your back pain.
Lets review some general principles for when to pick either ice or heat for back pain, and then well look at the most common causes of back pain to help you pick between ice and heat.
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Benefits Of Heat Therapy For Back Pain
Heat therapy is an effective remedy for back pain because it boosts circulation, which then allows nutrients and oxygen to travel to joints and muscles. This circulation helps repair damaged muscles, relieves inflammation, and improves back stiffness.
Any type of heat therapy can help relieve back pain. Yet, heating pads are ideal because theyre convenient and portable. Theyre also electric, so you can use them anywhere in your home, such as lying in bed or sitting on the couch.
Hot or warm baths provide moist heat, which also promote circulation and reduce muscle pain and stiffness. A bath might work better if you have pain or stiffness in other parts of your body, too.
The problem with baths, though, is that its difficult to maintain the water temperature. That water will slowly cool down.
On the other hand, heating pads have adjustable levels and provide a continuous flow of heat for as long as the pad is turned on.
If you dont have a heating pad, taking a warm shower or relaxing in a hot tub may also relieve back pain and stiffness. One benefit of a hot tub and shower over a bath is continuous heat similar to a heating pad.
Electric heating pads can get hot quickly and injure the skin, so its important to use them correctly.
Heat Or Ice For Sciatica
Like the causes of pain mentioned above, doctors recommend both ice and heat for sciatica.
As The Mayo Clinic delineates, Try cold packs initially to reduce inflammation. Apply an ice pack to the painful areas for about 20 minutes several times a day. After two or three days, apply heat with a heat lamp or a heating pad on the lowest setting. Alternating warm and cold packs may provide some relief.
As you can see, the answer to the question of whether to use ice or heat for back pain is, pretty decidedly, it depends! But basically, both! If you are suffering from chronic back pain, dont wait to find relief and get back to living. Contact our experts at Desert Spine & Scoliosis Center today.
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When Cold Can Help With Back Pain Due To Inflammation
Inflammation and swelling is part of the bodys natural response to injury, but once the threat has been neutralized and healing is underway, inflammation and swelling can actually increase pain. In these cases, ice acts to blunt the inflammatory response, which helps reduce swelling and calms the nerves around the injury site. Once the swelling has gone down, switching to heat therapy will likely be more helpful.
Using Heat To Relieve Lower Back Pain
Using a heating pad is a great way to get relief when people are experiencing pain in the low back region. It is effective because heat makes the blood vessels wider, and this helps blood flow in addition to helping
the muscles relax. With more blood moving into the area, the back gets an increased supply of nutrients, and harmful elements are removed effectively.
However, people should keep in mind that just using heat is often a temporary measure. Individuals who are experiencing pain on a regular basis should definitely see a doctor and investigate more permanent solutions to help with their back issues.
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What Is The Difference Between Heat And Ice
Ice helps reduce inflammation and numb pain, whereas heat helps relax muscles and stiff joints. While heat helps improve circulation and blood flow, ice reduces blood flow thereby reducing inflammation and swelling. As a general rule of thumb, ice should only be used for acute injuries, acute pain, or new injuries.
Alternating Heat And Ice Therapy For Back Pain
In some cases, both ice and heat therapy are necessary to provide back pain relief. By alternating ice compress and warm compress, you can increase the likelihood of relieving your back pain by taking advantage of the benefits of the hot and cold application.
To begin alternating ice and heat therapy, we recommend using ice before the heat packs. Ice therapy is the best applied during the first stage of injury since it temporarily numbs and shocks the muscles attention while the heat promotes relaxation immediately after.
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Adding Activity May Be Your Best Bet
The review found that advice to stay active after an injury yielded the best effects in terms of functioning and pain relief. The authors explained that staying active significantly reduced sick leave as well as a chronic disability for up to 1 year when compared with traditional medical treatment.
And, a 2006 Cochrane review entitled, “A Cochrane review of superficial heat or cold for low back pain,” found moderate evidence in a few studies for heat wrap therapy as a way to reduce pain and disability in the short term. This was true for people who were in both acute and sub-acute stages of the injury.
The researchers also found that adding exercise further reduced pain and improved functioning in study participants. Similar to the BMJ review discussed above, the Cochrane authors say that there’s not enough evidence to evaluate the effects of cold for low back pain and conflicting evidence for any differences between heat and cold for low back pain.
So for now, and into the foreseeable future, this decision is likely best made by you, the person with the back pain. Which makes your back feel better heat or ice?
- French SD1, Cameron M, Walker BF, Reggars JW, Esterman AJ. A Cochrane review of superficial heat or cold for low back pain. Spine . 2006 Apr 20 31:998-1006.
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.
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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.
When To Use Cold Therapy For Back Pain
- Acute back injury: Ice for back pain can be an effective pain reliever if you are experiencing an acute injury. For example, maybe you strained the muscles of your lower back by lifting something too heavy. The cold from the ice can help to reduce inflammation in the affected area. If you want to address an acute injury, its best to apply cold therapy within two days of the injury.
- Soreness from exercise: Exercise can help alleviate and even prevent recurrent back pain. Depending on the types of exercise you are doing and the intensity, you might feel sore after a workout. The cold can help ease the strain and tension in your muscles.
- Sciatica: Sciatica is the name for pain in the sciatic nerve, which begins in the lower back and travels down through the buttocks and the legs. If you are having a sciatica flare-up, immediate application of cold therapy can help to reduce the pain and inflammation. Cold therapy may also help reduce the muscle spasms associated with sciatica.
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Best Types Of Cold Therapy For Lower Back Pain Relief
- Reusable Cold Packs or Compresses – these can be applied locally to the lower back area .
- Cooling Topical Gels – an alternative to ice packs and can be rubbed directly on the lower back to target and reduce inflammation.
- Ice Massage – the combination of cold therapy and massage working together. Massage balls that can be frozen are perfect for this and can also be used while stretching.
- Ice Therapy Machines – this device consists of a water basin filled with ice water + hose that delivers constant cold relief to a flexible therapy pad that can be wrapped around your lower back.
- Ice Baths – often used in sports therapy, these allow you to fully submerge your back in ice cold water temperatures for a short duration of time.
- Whole Body Chambers – with the help of liquid nitrogen, these chambers drop to around -184 degrees fahrenheit to effectively reduce inflammation along with many other benefits.
What Ice And Heat Are Not For
Both ice and heat have the potential to do some minor, temporary harm when used poorly. Heat can make inflammation significantly worse. Ice can aggravate symptoms of tightness and stiffness it can also just make any pain worse when its unwanted.
Both ice and heat are pointless or worse when unwanted: icing when youre already shivering, or heating when youre already sweating. The brain may interpret an excess of either one as a threat, but icing is more threatening and when brains think theres a threat, they may also amp up the pain.5 Ice seems to be feel more threatening to most people.
Be especially wary of icing muscle pain and it may not be obvious. You may think your back is injured, for instance, but it may just be muscle pain. Trigger points can be surprisingly intense and easily mistaken for iceable injury and inflammation. But if you ice trigger points, they may burn and ache even more acutely. This mistake is made particularly often with low back pain and neck pain the very conditions people often try to treat with ice.
Heat and inflammation are the other particularly bad combination. If you add heat to a fresh injury, watch out: its going to get worse! A physician once told my father to heat a freshly injured knee, and wow it swelled up like a balloon, three times bigger than it had been before. And three times more painful.6
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Heating Back Pain Does Help
While heat is not a miracle cure for pain, and is , it does help relieve swelling and the intensity of back pain. When it comes to the back, heat is always preferred for treatment. Whether you are soaking in a hot tub to relieve the pain, or laying on a warm heating pad, you will experience extensive relief from the pain. Unfortunately, the pain tends to return after the skin cools down.
On the other hand, if the heat applied is too intense, it can cause the back muscles to recoil from the heat, causing the spasm to become worse, or even triggering a second muscle spasm around the area of the existing pain.
While ice causes trigger points in the back to over react, heat does not cause these trigger points to fire. This is why heating the area to a moderate temperature can relieve pain long enough for anti-inflammatory medications to work their way into your system.