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Should You Put Heat Or Ice On Back Pain

When To Use Cold Therapy For Back Pain

Should You Use Ice Or Heat For Back Pain? Hot Or Cold For 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.

When Ice Therapy Is Not The Answer

As with heat therapy, there are times when it can be tempting to slap a bag of ice on any sore or twitching muscle. But doing ice therapy for back spasm and a number of other problems can actually do more harm than good.

You should not ice for:

  • General muscle pains
  • Trigger points
  • Reducing body fat

Also, this is pretty intuitive, but you should not apply ice if youre already shivering.

Another word to the wiseyou may think you have pulled or strained a muscle in the back or neck, but actual tissue damage is quite rare. The tissue of the back is really thick and it takes a lot of forcelike whiplash from a car accident or lifting something very heavyto actually tear muscles.

So when it comes to answering the questionwhats good for back pain, heat or cold?heat usually wins out.

And if you indeed have a back strain from lifting or something else, you should only apply ice for a few days and then switch to heating pads.

When To Use Cold:

A Cold Compress or Ice Pack work best to relieve pain, swelling and inflammation for new injuries, re-injury and during immediate post surgery recovery. A Cold Compress or Ice Pack should also be used during the first 24 – 72 hours of treatment, combined with resting your injury. Generally speaking, cold is recommended:

  • 24 to 72 hours after your initial injury or when you first notice pain and swelling to stop tissue damage, relieve pain, and .
  • After exercise, workouts or activity of any kind to prevent re-injury.
  • Before and after surgery during rehabilitation to control pre and post-surgery pain and swelling.
  • Anytime you feel your hip or back has been over-extended, over-worked, twisted, strained or sprained causing pain and swelling.
  • Anytime you have swelling, sharp throbbing pain or inflammation.
  • Any other situation where you need to draw the pain and inflammation out of your lower back, hip and/or surrounding tissue.

Also Check: Mayo Clinic Lower Back Pain Exercises

Should You Use Dry Heat Or Moist Heat For Muscle Pain In Your Back

The answer to this question really comes down to your preference and whats most convenient. Dry heat tend to draw moisture out of the skin, leaving it dehydrated. But some prefer the sensation of dry heat and it is often the easier version to apply.

Moist heat, such as a hot bath, steamed towel or moist heating packs, can help heat to penetrate into muscles, bringing better results for some. But this can also be less convenient to apply and some do not like the mix of moisture and heat.

You may need to experiment to see what works best for relieving your back pain.

When To Use Ice For Back Pain

Should I Use Ice or Heat for My Lower Back Pain?

Youll want to apply ice during the acute phase, or inflammatory phase, of a back injury . Generally speaking, the inflammatory phase is the first 72 hours following an injury.

If you suffer an acute injury, your body responds in the following ways: Increased inflammation. Increased blood flow to the area. Increased swelling.

Guidelines for applying ice therapy: 20 minutes at a time, followed by a 40 to 60 minute break.

* Note: If you ice for longer period of time, youll actually have a negative response. Your body does the opposite of what youre trying to do. This means that instead of constricting blood flow to decrease inflammation to the area, your body will dilate blood vessels, which will increase blood flow to the area, thereby increasing inflammation and pain.

During the first 72 hours, you can use ice multiple times during the day .

Never apply ice directly to skin always use a barrier between your skin and ice such as a thin towel or shirt to prevent frostbite.

Ways to apply ice therapy to an injured area at home include: Ice packs.

Sensations you will feel from icing include: Cold Burning Aching Numbing .

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Pain Management With Heat & Cold Therapy

Using heat and cold therapy is one of the best ways for you to manage your pain right from the comfort of your home. In addition to avoiding the side effects of over the counter pain relievers, this kind of therapy can help the healing process move along faster by lowering inflammation for new injuries and improving range of motion for older injuries.

Whether you use heat or cold to treat your pain depends mostly on one thing: when the injury occurred. If youre experiencing acute pain or you have a new injury that is swollen or inflamed, then cold therapy will work best for you. If youre experiencing chronic pain or your injury is more than a day old, then heat therapy will work best for you. Of course, these are not hard and fast rules. So if you try either of these out and it is unpleasant, switch to the opposite to try to find some relief.

How To Perform Heat Therapy

There are many products on the market that penetrate deep tissues for effective heat treatment. Whether dry heat or moist heat may be more appropriate depends on the condition. A heating pad is an example of a dry heat source, whereas a warm bath is a popular moist heat therapy. Research has shown that moist heat may be superior to dry heat when it comes to penetrating deeper tissues. Therefore, moist heat may be more effective for treating denser muscle tissues, such as the quadriceps. During heat therapy treatments, its important to use a comfortable level of heat to minimize the risk of burns. When it comes to a warm soak in a hot tub, whirlpool or bath, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission does not recommend soaking in temperatures in excess of 104 degrees Fahrenheit Heating pads or heating packs should be wrapped in a towel or layer of fabric to prevent direct contact with the skin.

While heating pads and packs may be ideal for wider areas such as the lower back, smaller joints may require other types of heating products for optimal treatment. For example, those suffering from arthritis pain may choose to fully submerge the joint in a paraffin bath. While minor aches and pains may benefit from short 15 to 20 minute treatments daily, moderate symptoms may need extended treatment. Those with chronic muscle soreness may see good results from a soak in a warm bath for an hour or two.

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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.

Should I Use Ice Or Heat To Relieve Lower Back Pain

Ice (Cold Pack) OR Heat? Best Back Fix For Your LOWER BACK PAIN

So youre experiencing lower back pain? I know its awful. And Id like to help.

In addition to treating lower back pain for patients with adjustments and other chiropractic treatments and therapies, I make recommendations for all patients for what they can be doing at home, on their own, to relieve lower back pain. And spending time icing or heating the are is often recommended.

Most of my patients tend to think of ice as the go to treatment for lower back pain. While there are certain instances where ice is preferred, most often, heat is actually better at relieving lower back pain.

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When to use ice to treat lower back pain

In short, ice is for injuries

Ice is ideal for calming down damaged tissues that are inflamed, red, hot and swollen. Even though the inflammatory process is a healthy, normal, natural process, it also happens to be incredibly painful. Icing helps to control the pain of inflammation.

If you answer yes to any of these questions, you are probably going to experience some back pain relief by icing the area.

In these instances, ice or cold will do well to treat lower back pain.

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Read Also: Is Aleve Or Ibuprofen Better For Back Pain

When To Use A Cold Compress Or Ice Pack To Treat Your Hip

Cold compression works best to relieve pain, swelling and inflammation for new injuries, re-injury and during immediate post surgery recovery. Cold should also be used during the first 24 – 72 hours of treatment, combined with resting your injury.

If you’ve been suffering for some time with a chronic hip injury you should only use cold after activity causes you more pain or your body is showing more inflammatory response symptoms . This would be when your hip, outer thigh or lower back starts to hurt at the end of the day after you’ve been on your feet throughout the day. When used at this time cold compression becomes a natural / organic pain reliever, targeting the localized site where you feel the pain.

Sometimes we feel pain while doing a certain activity – should you still use cold? Too much cold can reduce your ability to heal correctly, because cold is a short term pain reliever, not a deep tissue healer.

Cold Compression slows nerve and cell function – reducing swelling that blocks blood vessels from doing their job.

How Long Should You Apply Heat

While you should limit the amount of time in which you apply cold to your body, you can indulge in heat treatment for longer.

Minor pain and stiffness can benefit from about 15 minutes of heat therapy, while more intense pain should be treated with longer heat therapy sessions, with anything from 30 minutes to two hours being recommended, as Healthline reports.

Also Check: Will Aleve Help With Back Pain

Range Of Lower Back Problems That Can Benefit From Heat And Cold Therapy

Heat and /or cold therapy is beneficial either as a primary or adjunctive therapy, but people often overlook this treatment because its simple, inexpensive, and readily available. The following common lower back conditions may benefit from heat or cold therapy:

  • Lower back pain from common conditions, such as herniated or degenerated discs, spinal stenosis , or spondylolisthesis

    Read more about Causes of Lower Back Pain

  • Direct lower back injury from falls, sprains, sports injuries , or collisions1
  • Pulled back muscle due to excessive strain or force leading to overstretching of the muscle fibers, such as from lifting weights1

    See Pulled Back Muscle Treatment

  • Exercise-induced muscle soreness, such as a from trying a new exercise, exercising without an initial period of warming up, or overdoing a specific exercise1

Always use heat and cold therapy intermittently, for 15 to 20 minutes, with a 2-hour break in between to avoid skin and nerve damage.

Heat For Managing Pain

Should You Use Heat or Ice for Lower Back Pain?

Before using heat to help with your pain, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Has your injury healed or is it fresh?
  • Are your muscles tight and tender?
  • Is the pain located in your joints or muscles?

The answers to these questions are relevant because of how heat works to relieve certain types of pain.

Heat can be an effective form of pain relief in three main circumstances:

  • If the pain is caused by muscle tension
  • If you need to “loosen” stiff joints
  • When pain is chronic, due to either disease or injuries that have healed
  • This makes heat an appropriate choice for musculoskeletal conditions, such as:

    Also Check: Aleve Or Advil For Back Pain

    Ice Or Heat For Back Pain

    30-Second Blog Snapshot:

    • Conservative therapies, such as hot or cold packs, exercising, and over-the-counter pain relievers may help mitigate pain in between interventional pain treatments.
    • Patients hoping to relieve low back pain with a heat or ice pack may be confused about which one to use for their pain.
    • At Southwest Spine and Pain Center, Utahs leading pain management group, physicians explain the difference between ice and heat packs for back pain.

    Although ice and heat can be beneficial at relieving certain musculoskeletal pains, there are instances where one should be used over the other. A great rule of thumb to follow may be this: ice is for injuries heat is for muscle pain. Well elaborate:

    Ice Is For Injuries

    When you sustain any injury of any kind, your body responds by inflaming or swelling its tissues to prevent infectious agents and other debris from impeding recovery. Although this inflammatory process is completely normal, it can be incredibly painful depending on the cause or condition of your injury. Therefore, its important to apply ice to your injury not just to calm swelling, but to also reduce pain. Nevertheless, there are certain situations ice should be avoided and that is when your muscles are sore or stressed. Ice can cause severe trigger points and spasms to develop when its applied to sore muscles, which leads us to our next point: heat is for muscle pain.

    Heat Is For Muscle Pain

    How Ice Can Help Relieve Pain

    We all know that ice is great at numbing pain. Stubbed your toe? Grab an ice pack. Crushed your finger? Grab an ice pack. Banged your head. You guessed it: Ice pack!

    But, according to Dr. Brooks, ice is more than just an analgesic. In fact, ice is particularly helpful if your muscle or joint pain is associated with the swelling that typically accompanies an exercise-related overuse injury or arthritis.

    “Applying ice causes your blood vessels to narrow, decreasing blood flow to the area. In turn, this helps reduce the inflammation that causes swelling,” says Dr. Brooks. “Even if you can’t actually see the swelling, one of its symptoms is pain. This means that if you can reduce your swelling, you can reduce your pain.”

    The most common way to use ice to help relieve muscle or joint pain is to apply an ice pack to the area for about 20 to 30 minutes. It’s important to stick to this time frame, since over-icing can lead to skin damage.

    Read Also: Back Pain Cleveland Clinic

    Heat Is For Sore Muscles And Chronic Conditions

    The use of heat, such as with a hot towel or heating pad, can help to relax the muscles.

    Heat stimulates blood flow to the affected area, so it brings more oxygen and nutrients to the muscles in order to help them heal.

    Heat is ideal for chronic conditions and it can even warm up muscles before activity, such as in the case of an athlete applying heat to an injury associated with overuse, as the Southern California Orthopedic Institute reports.

    Warnings When Using Heat Therapy

    Ice Versus Heat for Back Pain

    Althoughheat therapy offers many benefits when treating pain, it also has someimportant information you should consider before proceeding with it.

    • You should never use heat on muscles that have been injured as this can actually cause swelling to get worse!
    • Always make sure the heat youre using is warm instead of hot as that can burn your skin.
    • If youve used heat therapy on your sore neck or back and it hasnt made your pain better after a week, you should consult with your doctor as you might require medication to treat the pain.

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    Common Aches Pains And Soft Tissue Injuries


    Whether the result of a slip around the house or a misstep on the playing field, many of us have experienced a painful sprain or two. A sprain is a common sports injury that generally occurs in the wrists, knees, and ankles. Throughout the human body, tissues known as ligaments support joints by connecting bones to other bones. A sprain is the result of the tearing or stretching of one of these ligaments too far. Common sprain symptoms include swelling, pain, discomfort, and difficulty moving the affected joint or limb.


    While ligaments connect bones to other bones, tendons attach muscles to bones throughout the body. Overexerting a muscle or stretching a tendon or muscle too far can result in a strain. Muscle strains involving the lower back, legs, and shoulders are common. Typical symptoms of strains include pain, general stiffness, weakness, swelling, muscular spasms, and difficulty moving the affected area.


    While ligaments connect bones to other bones, tendons attach muscles to bones throughout the body. Overexerting a muscle or stretching a tendon or muscle too far can result in a strain. Muscle strains involving the lower back, legs, and shoulders are common. Typical symptoms of strains include pain, general stiffness, weakness, swelling, muscular spasms, and difficulty moving the affected area.

    At-Home Injury Care: What Is the Rice Method?

    R Is For Rest

    I Is For Ice

    C Is For Compression

    E Is For Elevation


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