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What Is Better For Back Pain Heat Or Ice

Can I Use Heat Therapy

Ice Or Heat For Back Pain Relief & Injury?

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.

Is Ice Or Heat Better For Back Pain

Back pain is a prevalent experience for most people at some point in their adult lives. Applying heat or ice is one of the tried-and-true methods of at-home treatment for back pain, but how do you know which method to use and when? Get to know how to use ice or heat for back pain and when to use both.

When Heat Can Help With Back Pain

The physiological effects of heat therapy include temporary pain relief, increased blood flow and metabolism, and improved elasticity of connective tissues. Application of heat helps with stretching of soft tissues around the spine and decreases stiffness. Flexibility is an important part of maintaining a healthy back.For that reason, if you find you have back pain after exercise, you might consider heat therapy before exercise and ice afterward. The heat will relieve muscle tightness, increase elasticity, and warm up muscles before use, and the ice afterward will reduce inflammation.

In any case, you should keep in mind that the pain relief from the application of heat or cold is most likely temporary and not intended as a long-term cure. In a 2010 study comparing heat and cold therapy for acute back pain, the researchers concluded that the choice of heat or cold therapy should be based on patient and practitioner preferences and availability.

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Do Not Ice Lower Back Or Neck Pain

Wait! What? You shouldnt ice low back pain? The truth is, treating low back pain with ice can make the pain worse. Icing these areas can actually cause the body to feel threatened. In many cases, you will immediately notice that the muscle spasm increases the second you place ice on the injured area. In other cases, you might notice a very unpleasant sensation when the ice is applied.

After a few minutes go by, you will notice that your pain has increased, and the area becomes extremely stiff and difficult to move. While it does not do any permanent damage, it is not a very pleasant experience and you most likely will not try it again.

According to scientific studies, the reason the lower back and neck react in this manner is because they are full of muscular trigger points, or muscle knots. These are common muscle dysfunctions found in the back because this area carries so much of the human weight and is responsible for so many movement functions.

If you consider how your body is structured, you will see how much your spine really does, it protects the spinal cord, it carries all of the nerves to various exit points throughout your body, and if compromised, it can cause you to become paralyzed. That is pretty hard work for something that looks like a rippled stick put together with a lot of puzzle pieces. No wonder the brain is so over protective!

When To Use Heat For Back Pain

Back Pain Relieving Ice to Heat Patches, 4 Count By Rub

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.

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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.

Start With Cold Therapy For Acute Back Pain

If you’ve 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. You’ll be left with a numbing effect that hopefully offers relief.

Once you’ve 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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When To Chill And When To Heat

Many of these conditions are treatable with medication as prescribed by your health care provider. And, for other situations, over-the-counter pain relievers may be enough to help. But you still may need further relief so here are a few tips to keep in mind when deciding between ice or heat for aching muscles and joints.

Reminder: if any of these conditions are new or dont resolve quickly, be sure to contact your health care provider for more treatment options.

Acute injuries

First of all, do not use heat on acute injuries because that extra heat can increase inflammation and delay proper healing.

When dealing with injuries, its best to predominantly choose ice if the injury is acute . The chill constricts blood vessels which numbs pain, relieves inflammation and limits bruising.

If youre sensitive to cold then ice may initially seem uncomfortable or even painful to apply. Heat can feel warm, cozy and be tempting to toss on an injury, says primary care sports medicine physician Anne Rex, DO. But dont be fooled! Ice wins to shut down swelling, inflammation and pain early on where heat may actually make an injury worse.

If youre dealing with lingering injuries then its okay to use heat. The increased blood flow relaxes tight muscles and relieves aching joints. This is especially helpful to improve range of motion on a joint that maybe isnt moving as well.


Gout flare-ups


Muscle strains and sprains



When Shouldnt You Use Heat Or Ice Treatment For Lower Back Pain

Ice or Heat: Which is better for low back pain?

While heat and cold therapy can provide relief for many types of lower back pain, there are certain conditions and situations where you should not use them.

Heat therapy can aggravate chronic issues such as multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, or rheumatoid arthritis. When heat is applied to these conditions, it can increase inflammation or even cause skin ulceration or burns.

Heat and cold therapy should also be avoided if the affected area has open wounds or bleeding, blistering, or oozing fluid. Avoid direct contact with the source of heat or cold to protect your skin from damage. A protective barrier such as a cloth or towel between your skin and the source can prevent burns and skin damage.

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Heat Or Ice For Lower Back Pain Which Is Best

If youve got lower back pain, friends and family have probably given you plenty of advice. Some people will tell you to ice it, while others will say to apply heat. The answer to the question of which is best often depends on the type of pain you are experiencing and who you ask.

A survey of physical therapists in 2015 found that among 327 physical therapists participating in the study, the percentage of those using heat or ice for pain ranged from 47.7 percent to 66.8 percent. The range varied, depending on whether the PTs were treating the patients musculoskeletal pain in an inpatient or outpatient setting. Even so, there is only limited research evaluating the effectiveness of these treatments.

The therapists were also asked about which treatment to recommend for acute back pain that occurs after an injury, muscle strain, or overexertion. While there is no consensus, in general, experts say to apply cold therapy in the first day or so after the injury. After the swelling and inflammation have diminished, switching to heat therapy may be helpful.

Heat To Relieve Back Pain

  • Apply heat for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Moist heat works better than dry heat.
  • Try an all-day heat wrap, available in pharmacies.
  • If you are using an electric heating pad, avoid falling asleep while the pad is on. If you think you might fall asleep, set an alarm clock to go off in 20 minutes. Use heating pads set on low or medium, never on high.

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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.

Relieving Your Back Pain

Heat or Ice For 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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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.

Much Much More Hot And Cold Information

Heat for Pain and Rehab A detailed guide to using heat as therapy for acute and chronic pain and recovery from injury

Hot Baths for Injury & Pain Tips for getting the most benefit from a hot soak, the oldest form of therapy

Never Use Ice on Low Back Pain! An important exception to conventional wisdom about icing and heating

Other closely related topics:

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So What Is The Story With Necks

The information we gave explaining what happens to the back when it is iced holds true with necks as well. However, the argument against icing the neck is not as strong as it is with the back, the word never does not apply here.

Just like back pain, the majority of neck pain is not considered inflammatory or injurious in nature. This is the criterion for icing an injury. Just like backs, the neck is easily irritated with cold. Have you ever been hit in the back of the neck with a snow ball? The cold hurts worse than the snow ball impact!

The most common problem people face with their neck is the crick in the neck, which is enough to make you slightly hostile. This is usually brought on by chilly air hitting the neck at night, and not by the way you slept on your pillow.

Even if we break down all of the specifics, it is better to learn by experience. Take a small piece of ice from the freezer and place it on your neck for a few seconds. You will see quickly that your neck does not like it at all.

Unfortunately, no matter what you do, the neck is more fragile than the back. Because the brain knowns this, it pays more attention to the back than it does the neck, and protects it a lot more. Necks are susceptible to being injured a lot more easily, especially with a condition known as whiplash which is way more common than straining muscles in your lower back.

Heat Vs Ice: Which Does Your Injury Need

Ice Versus Heat for Back Pain

Heat vs. icethe classic battle. When you experience a minor injury, youre probably considering some old-fashioned, DIY pain management: heat or ice. Which works best? You dont have to guess any longer. By understanding what to use on your pains and strains, you can help your injury heal.

Eric JacksononJune 17, 2022

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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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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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Should You Use Ice Or Heat After A Chiropractic Adjustment

This is dependent on the presenting problem. If the inflammation is from a joint in the spine or disk ice would be the way to go. If the presenting problem is from muscle spasm, heat would be beneficial. Heat would not be recommended directly after a massage or deep tissue work though. If you are unsure always go for ice

Types Of Heat Therapy

ICEWRAPS Extra Large Ice Pack for Injuries, Covers

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.

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