Should I Use Ice Or Heat For Back Pain
Back pain is one of the most common global pain conditions, affecting 80% of people in their lifetime. It costs the U.S. an estimated $50 billion in direct medical expenses, and another $50 billion in indirect costs . Bottom line: recovering from back pain quickly, safely, and inexpensively is crucial. There are a variety of ways to treat both acute and chronic back pain, but none fits the bill quite as well ice and heat therapy. But different types of pain require different solutions. Do you use ice or heat for back pain? Heres how to decide.
When To Use Ice Therapy For Back Pain
As mentioned above, ice therapy for back pain is recommended for injuries that relate to inflammation.
When the body suffers a sprain or tear, blood vessels swell in response to create space for immune cells to rush towards the injury. This inflammation also immobilizes the area to protect it from further injury . If protective inflammation goes too far, there is the risk of damage to the tissues surrounding the injury.
Ice therapy for back pain helps constrict the blood vessels, reducing inflammation. In addition, ice numbs the nerve endings responsible for pain transmission, which relieves some of your pain. Another benefit is that the body is forced to rest while ice is applied, removing the possibility for further injury.
Ice therapy is best during the acute phase of injury when the area is inflamed. Mild sprains, strains, and tears to connective tissues are most responsive to this therapy.
Tips When Using Heat And Ice Therapy
If you plan to regularly use heat and ice therapy, it can be helpful to have both options on hand. If you work out first thing in the morning, you can keep an electric heating pad plugged in by your bed. Wake up, get some heat on your back muscles, then dive into your workout routine. It can be helpful to keep a few different cool packs in the freezer so they will be ready for use whenever you need them. Cold showers and hot baths can also be a beneficial way of augmenting your go-to cold and heat therapies.
Whether you are doing individual cold or heat therapy or a combination of both, always remember to protect your skin. Set a timer for your therapy sessions to ensure you do not leave the ice or heat on your back for too long.
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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.
Cold/heat Therapy Best Practices
Cold and heat therapy can be effective, but only if you use it properly. How you use it will depend on the type of back pain that youre experiencing.
If you have acute pain, then youll use both heat and cold therapy. You should begin with cold therapy, which youll place on the affected area for 15 minutes. After that time is up, you should switch to heat therapy.
If your back pain is chronic , then youll want to use heat therapy only. To get the best results, your pack should be warm and placed for a longer period of time on your back.
If you find that you have back pain after youve engaged in exercise, then be sure to have an ice pack at home. If you place the ice on your back immediately after exercise, youll find that your symptoms are much improved.
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Precautions And Safety Tips
Heating pads are effective for pain management, but they can be dangerous when used improperly. Here are a few safety tips to avoid injury.
- Dont place a heating pad or heated gel pack directly on your skin. Wrap it in a towel before applying to skin to avoid burns.
- Dont fall asleep using a heating pad.
- When using a heating pad, start on the lowest level and slowly increase the heat intensity.
- Dont use a heating pad that has a cracked or broken electrical cord.
- Dont apply a heating pad to damaged skin.
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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Heat Therapy: Why A Heated Back Brace Is A Good Way To Get Rid Of Back Pain
Generally speaking, heat therapy is your best solution for sore, stiff or aching muscles, especially in the neck or back.
Your muscles typically respond well to heat, especially when your discomfort stems from overexertion, trigger points , spasms, cramps , bad posture, or restless leg syndrome.
Using a heating pad is also one of the best things you can do for easing pain or stiffness stemming from arthritis.
A heating pad can also soothe hurts-all-over pain or sensitivity stemming from fibromyalgia, sleep deprivation, rheumatic diseases or vitamin D deficiency, to name a few examples.
Remedies To Relieve Lower Back Pain Fast
We all want to know the best way to relieve lower back pain fast. At best, backache can be frustrating, perhaps draining. At its worst, this kind of discomfort can be utterly debilitating. If you have ever awakened with a terrible backache, you may have also learned how quickly such an ailment can derail your day, your week, or even several months or years.
Fortunately, there are remedies to combat that ache. From exercising to getting better sleep to reducing your stress levels, you can choose from a variety of strategies. The next time you have a backache , consider the following methods of back pain relief. Remember to discuss at-home back pain remedies with your doctor before you make use of them.
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What About Chronic Lower Back Pain
All of the above advice addresses when to use heat and ice following the first occurrence of lower back pain after an injury. But what about chronic lower back pain?
The simple answer is that there is no right answer. Finding the balance between cold and heat therapy for chronic lower back pain is a process of trial and errorand what might work for one patient may not for another. But when it comes to exercise, many people with chronic back pain find heat therapy helps to warm up their muscles beforehand, while cold therapy helps with pain and inflammation afterwards.
How Does Heat Work
When we say heat, what we mean usually is a warm compress, hot water bottle or wheat cushion applied to an area of skin around an injury. You could also get these effects from a hot bath or shower, but this would be a less targeted way of treating an area.
Heat works roughly in the opposite way that ice works. It, too, has a number of effects to the body when applied around an injury:
- Heat causes an effect called vasodilation to the blood vessels around an area which means a widening of the vessels, increasing blood flow to an injured site. You wouldnt want to use heat on a recently sprained ankle
- Heat doesnt affect the nerves like ice does, but it does increase healthy blood flow to an area, which can cause an increased rate of healing to some injuries . It also helps to flush away the nasties within the blood that invade an injured area.
- Heat has an effect on the surrounding muscles and joints whereby it loosens them up by making the tissues more elastic and pliable. This basically means you can increase the flexibility of an area just by heating it up. Try to stretch a muscle in the cold, then try to stretch the same muscle after a hot shower youll find you can stretch way further after the hot treatment.
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Heat Vs Cold For Chronic Pain
If you suffer from chronic lower back pain, the decision between when you use heat vs. when to use cold isnt quite as clear cut. For most people, obtaining effective relief requires finding a balance between using both heat and cold. If you do exercises to strengthen your back, you may find that applying heat first helps warm up your muscles and get through your workout with ease. Cold works to ease inflammation and pain following a workout.
Chronic lower back pain should be assessed by a medical professional. If you suffer from lower back pain, your Denver physical therapist can help you determine the best course of treatment. To learn more, contact Denver Physical Medicine today.
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Can I Use Ice Therapy
Ice therapy doesnt have many of the limitations of heat therapy. For example, its not typically as dangerous to people with other health issues. However, it can be a problem for people who have sensory issues that make it difficult to sense pain. This includes people who have diabetes, as nerve damage may have impacted their sensitivity to extreme temperatures. Its important to be able to see and feel what the ice is doing, so you dont accidentally let it sit on your skin too long to cause damage and, ultimately, more pain. Its also not recommended for people who have poor circulation.
As we mentioned previously, its important to understand the source of your pain and which treatment is going to be the most effective. Ice therapy is not useful for individuals who are trying to treat stiff joints or muscles because it will not loosen up stiff areas it will have the opposite effect!
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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.
Types Of Heating Pads
Different heating pads are available for back pain. This includes a standard electric heating pad that offers multiple heat settings.
Theres also the option of an infrared heating pad. This is helpful for moderate to severe pain since the heat penetrates deeper into the muscles.
When shopping for a heating pad, look for one that has an automatic shut-off feature to prevent overheating and burns, in case you fall asleep on the pad.
You can find electric heat pads at your local pharmacy or shop for one online.
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Types Of Cold Therapy
Some ways of using cold therapy include:
- a cold compress or a chemical cold pack applied to the inflamed area for 20 minutes, every 4 to 6 hours, for 3 days. Cold compresses are available for purchase online.
- immersion or soaking in cold, but not freezing, water
- massaging the area with an ice cube or an ice pack in a circular motion from two to five times a day, for a maximum of 5 minutes, to avoid an ice burn
In the case of an ice massage, ice can be applied directly to the skin, because it does not stay in one place.
Ice should not be applied directly to the bony portions of the spinal column.
A cold compress can be made by filling a plastic bag with frozen vegetables or ice and wrapping it in a dry cloth.
Relieving Your Back Pain
When you are suffering from an ache or struggling to get lower back pain relief, it may seem difficult to take a proactive approach to the matter. However, alleviating such aches may be largely within your control. If you make some simple changes in habit and lifestyle, you might be pleasantly surprised by the results. At North Texas Medical Center, we take great pride in helping our community achieve better health. If you are suffering from backache, call us at , or contact us online today.
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Should You Use Ice Or Heat For Your Lower Back Pain
Topical pain relief methods are most commonly used today for lower back pain relief, but truly find effective pain relief for lower back pain. Understanding how your treatments can work for your specific situation is important. For instance, heat and cold therapy can be helpful as a primary pain relief method or as an adjunctive treatment alongside physical therapy, medication, and spinal adjustments. However, for those wondering what the best ways are to treat back pain, were here to provide a basic outline for when to use heat or cold therapy for your lower back, when not to use it, and how to best combat lower back pain overall.
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.
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Tips To Combine Heat And Cold Therapy In Your Daily Routine
Here are a few tips to help you incorporate the use of heat and/or cold therapy in your everyday activities:
- Keep a heat patch near your beduse it first thing in the morning to warm up your muscles if you wake up with an achy or stiff back
- Apply a cold patch before bed if you have exercised or exerted your back
- Use heat therapy before sleeping and after waking up if you have chronic back pain
- Carry a couple of self-activating heat patches and ice packs in your bag or car to use while driving or at work
You are more likely to benefit from heat and cold therapy when you make these treatments a part of your daily routine.
Tips For Lower Back Pain Cold Treatment
For at home cold therapy, follow these general tips below:
- Use to reduce swelling and inflammation
- Avoid Ice burn
- Apply cold for no more than 20 minutes.
- Do not apply directly to skin, use a towel or thin clothing as a barrier
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