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.
How Ice Works To Relieve Pain And Reduce Inflammation
Ice narrows the blood vessel lumen , which limits blood flow to your soft tissues.
The control of blood flow helps in pain control by reducing the flow of irritating chemicals that can flood the injury site. While these chemicals are a natural and useful response to inflammation, keeping them in check helps control pain.
Reduced blood flow also helps control excessive swelling.
Ice Therapy: A Few Scenarios When Its Good For Back Pain
Ice therapy, also known as cryotherapy, is generally meant for fresh injuries. The cold of an ice pack calms inflamed, hot, red or swollen tissue.
While this is your bodys natural reaction to an injury and a component of the healing process, it can be quite painful and last longer than it needs to.
Applying a cold gel pack to your freshly injured back or some other area of the body can dull pain and bring down swelling.
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Ice In The First 24 To 72 Hours
As a general rule, it is best to apply cold therapy to your lower back in the first 24 to 72 hours following your lower back injury. The application of cold therapy can minimize your inflammation and swellingwhich in turn may reduce your pain. In addition, ice can decrease your tissue damage and numb your sore tissues.
There are numerous options for cold therapy, including a frozen bag of vegetables, frozen gel packs, and a frozen towel. Regardless of which option you choose, make sure to note the following precautions:
- To avoid ice burn, place a cloth between your skin and whichever source of cold you select.
- Apply cold therapy for no more than 20 minutes at a time. You can apply cold therapy 8 to 10 times per 24 hour period.
Watch: Video: How to Make 5 Quick and Easy Ice Packs
How To Use Heat
You can administer heat therapy in two different forms: dry heat or moist heat. Dry heat is the kind that comes from heating pads or saunas, while moist heat comes from sources like steam towels or a hot bath or shower. Typically, when youre using either form of heat therapy, youll only apply it to the specific part of your body that is in pain. The exception to this, obviously, is a hot shower or sauna, which tend to target your whole body. Of the two options, moist heat works faster, which means you wont have to apply it as long as you would a dry heat. However, it can be messier, so it may not always be the best option.
As an aside, there are many different kinds of heating pads out there. If you opt to use an electric one, just make sure you dont fall asleep while its on, or select one that has an automatic shutoff feature instead of remaining on until you switch it off.
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Be Proactive About Ice/heat Applications
In some instances, you may experience delayed muscle soreness if you overstretch your lower back muscles. This type of pain often develops gradually over a few days as tissue inflammation progresses. You can ward off inflammation by immediately applying ice after exercising or being active. After 24 hours, switch to heat applications to help overstimulated tissues heal.
When Are Hot/cold Therapies Good For Lower Back Pain
Of course, hot and cold therapy is only helpful during certain lower back pain cases.
In general, lower back pain from common conditions like spinal stenosis , herniated discs, or even sciatica can benefit from hot or cold therapies.
These therapies can also be helpful if you have a direct injury on your lower back, like a sports injury or something from a fall.
If you pull your back muscles and those are causing your lower back pain, then hot or cold therapy might also be for you.
This pain is usually because you overstretch your muscle fibers, and are commonly associated with people who lift weights improperly or too much weight.
As a result, any exercise-induced muscle soreness can also benefit from hot or cold therapies.
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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.
When To Use Heat And Ice Therapy For Back Pain
If you are debating between heat or cold for back pain, sometimes the answer is both. If you are planning to exercise, you can use a combination of heat and ice therapy to help manage any potential back pain.
Before starting your workout, use a warm compress to help relax the muscles in your back and prepare them for movement. Approximately 10 to 15 minutes of heat therapy is usually adequate.
After you cool down and stretch, use some cold therapy to help soothe any soreness in your muscles. You can apply the ice pack or cold compress immediately after working out or later in your day.
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If You Answered With Stiffness In The Back
Heat, heat and more heat. Honestly, the best results Ive seen come when someone has applied heat to the back to allow better movement and less of that horrible rod-up-your-back sensation.
For best effects, use this method:
- Start sitting up in a chair
- Take a hot water bottle
- Slip it behind your back and apply it to the stiffest area
- Keep it there for 15 minutes, then remove
- Allow the skin to cool to a natural temperature, then repeat the process
- Always look out for any signs of heat burn on your skin and remove immediately if you see or feel anything.
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.
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How To Use Heat And Cold Therapy To Treat Pain
05 January 2016
Healing after an injury can be a long and painful process. And while there are many restorative practices you can do to speed along the process including physical therapy, massage, and other natural healing modalities, theres also something quite simple you can do yourself at home to treat your pain. Its head and cold therapy.
Ice Therapy For Back Pains
Ice for impact injuries
There are certain types of impact injuries that may benefit from ice therapy. These may include:
- Sudden or high impact falls
- High impact injury during sports
- Sudden and sharp pain in the lower back
- Sprains in your lower back
For these types of lower back pain, ice therapy or an ice pack may help to soothe the muscles, reduce any localised inflammation and minimise the pain.
Pushing yourself too extensive workouts
Many people engage in rigorous exercise and dont realize that they could be injuring their back. If you havent warmed up or cooled down properly, then you could experience pain in the aftermath of your exercise. Not only immediately after your workout, but up to several days after.
This is called delayed onset muscle soreness and may lead to inflammation and pain in your body. Ice therapy immediately after intense exercise may aid in inflammation reduction and reduced tissue damage.
According to a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research cold immediately after exercise or 24 hours later was superior to heat in reducing pain.
After a day or two, you could switch to heat therapy, as discussed in the following paragraph.
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When To Use Heat
Once the initial inflammation and swelling have subsided, switch to heat. Heat stimulates blood flow to the affected area and helps facilitate healing. It may also decrease stiffness and prevent pain signals from traveling to your brain.
When using heat, you can choose between dry heat or moist heat. Dry heat is generally easier to apply, but it may make your skin feel dehydrated. Moist heat penetrates your muscles better and may work better for easing your pain.
If you have open wounds, dermatitis or diabetes, avoid heat therapy altogether.
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.
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When To Use Heat For Back Pain
After the inflammatory phase, the first 72 hours, you can start to introduce heat to the situation in most cases. However, in some cases, even after the first 72 hours, its still too early for heat. If you continue to have sharp pain, or have pain that radiates down your leg, do not use heat, its too early and you should continue to ice until these symptoms subside.
Generally speaking, heat is good option for chronic or long-term issues that present with dull and achy pain, as well as muscle tightness. Heat helps to increase pliability of tightened muscles and increases your flexibility, which in turn helps to decrease your pain and improve function.
As a general rule, you want to use heat for about 30 minutes at a time. Anything longer than 30 minutes, and you may start to notice increased inflammation and pain.
There are two different types of heat therapy: Dry heat and Moist heat.
Dry heat Easy to apply. Includes heating pads and dry heat packs.
Moist heat slightly more effective than dry heat, takes less time, however, its more difficult to apply. Includes moist heat packs, steamed towels, and hot baths.
Where I Went Wrong
I had a remedial massage and applied heat first when I should have rested, applied cold and taken anti-inflammatories immediately!
So, after seeing a doctor and getting an X-ray I can see its muscular and ligament so now I know the best course of treatment: rest, laying down, little to no sitting until its healed, walking and a natural anti-inflammatory diet. See my recent blog here on the best foods, drinks and supplements to take to help reduce inflammation.
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So Is Ice Or Heat Better For Pain
So…ice can help relieve pain, heat can help relieve pain, and ice and heat work in completely different ways so, in the debate of ice vs. heat, which reigns supreme?
When it comes to relieving pain, Dr. Brooks says the answer depends on the type of pain you’re experiencing and what you’re currently doing.
“For muscle or joint pain caused by exercise-induced tissue damage or arthritis, there’s a role for both ice and heat and knowing when to use which is as easy as following advice you’re already used to: Warm up before activity, and cool down afterward,” explains Dr. Brooks. “Before exercise or activity, use heat to reduce joint stiffness and improve joint flexibility. After activity, use ice to reduce post-exercise discomfort.”
Heat and ice also have a place in between activity and exercise.
“Since heat can help speed up the process of repairing damaged tissue and ice can help reduce the painful swelling you may be experiencing, I recommend rotating between heat and ice throughout the day as you recover from an exercise-related overuse injury,” explains Dr. Brooks.
And if your pain isn’t from exercise, but rather the result of tension in your muscles from sitting at a computer all day, Dr. Brooks recommends skipping the ice altogether and opting for the relaxation benefits that heat can have on tight muscles.
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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Benefits Of Ice Or Heat For Back Pain
Ice therapy for back pain and heat therapy for back pain have both been around for as long as people have suffered strains, sprains, and trauma to the back and neck. But are they effective?
The answer is not so simple.
Inflammation is the bodys natural, protective response to injury, but too much inflammation can do more harm than good. As with other types of inflammatory injuries, ice therapy for back pain does ease swelling. This can, in turn, reduce the pain of an acute injury.
With heat therapy for back pain, the soothing comfort of a heating pad on a sore back can go a long way to ease muscle tension. And there is evidence that heat provides a relaxing psychological benefit as well .
In other words, ice or heat therapy for back pain provides important physical benefits in that they either reduce inflammation or offer crucial emotional benefits by soothing soreness and creating a more relaxed state.
Depending on the type of injury, there is some evidence that either cryotherapy or thermotherapy can help ease back pain when combined with other treatments. Earlier reviews of studies found that heat therapy was most effective for lower back pain.
Ice or heat therapy for back pain is easy, affordable, and a good first-line approach for minor back injuries. There are generally no side effects, and this treatment is available to anyone who needs it.
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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When To Use Ice For Lower Back Pain
In most instances, you should use ice on your back for the first 24 to 72 hours following an injury. Cold therapy helps minimize swelling and inflammation. This, in turn, eases your pain. Cold therapy may also decrease tissue damage.
Whether you use an ice pack, a frozen towel or even a bag of frozen vegetables, place a cloth between your skin and the source of cold to prevent ice burn. Cold therapy should be applied for no more than 20 minutes at a time, but it can safely be applied up to 10 times in a 24-hour period.
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 youve 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 youve 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.
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