Ice vs Heat for Back Pain - Which is Better?

Effects of Ice Therapy for Back Pains

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Back pain is not a joke. In fact, researchers estimate that around 80% of the population will suffer back pains at some point in their lives. It can affect anyone, of any age, gender, or ethnic background or cultural heritage.

Due to the increasing number of cases of back pain, it is no surprise that a large number of the population have a lot of questions with regards to the condition and its treatment.

One of the most frequently asked questions about the treatment of back pain is the use of ice or heat therapy for back pain. Both ice and heat help with pain alleviation, but it is essential to know when and when not to use them.

Effects of Ice Therapy for Back Pain

Ice therapy or cold compress application lowers the temperature of the skin and underlying tissues, which will cause the blood vessels' diameter to constrict or narrow. The constriction of the vessels reduces the blood flow in the affected area, thereby reducing swelling or inflammation.

Benefits of Ice Compress:

  • - Reduces swelling or inflammation

  • - Numbs pain

  • - Relieves swelling and redness

  • - Lessens bruising

It should be noted, however, that prolonged application of cold compress may result in impaired circulation due to the reduced amount of blood flow to the area.

When to Use Cold Compress for Back Pain

Use of ice packs are recommended for:

- After new injuries

- Sprain

- Strains

- Post-workout pains

- Pulled or torn back muscles

- Swollen tissues 

      extra large gel ice pack

      Tips for Using Ice Therapy for Back Pain

      Here are some pointers to consider when using ice for back pains such as gel ice packs, ice bags, and other cold compress products: 

      - Apply to the affected area for 15 - 20 minutes at a time.
      - Do not apply a cold pack directly on the skin, use a thin cloth or towel
      - Check the skin every 5 minutes to assess the presence of tissue  damage or injury
      - Wait for 1 hour before repeating cold treatment

        Effects of Heat Therapy for Back Pain

        Heat therapy or warm compress causes the blood vessels to dilate or widen, increasing the blood flow to the affected site. Increased blood flow on the area will result in higher oxygen levels, as well as nutrients, and antibodies that promote soft-tissue healing.

        Effects of Warm Compress

        - Increases blood flow to the area
        - Reduces pain
        - Promotes soothing, relaxing effect
        - Eases tight muscles

          When applying warm packs, we recommend avoiding prolonged exposure to heat to prevent blisters, pain, and other signs of tissue damage.

          When to Use Warm Compress for Back Pain

          A warm compress or heat therapy works best for:
          - Fibromyalgia-related back pain
          - Overexertion-related back pains
          - Pre-workout exercises
          - Stiff or tight back muscles
          - Joint and muscle stiffness
          - Soothing back muscles

            Tips for Using Heat Therapy for Back Pain

            When administering heat therapy such as hot water packs, hot stone, or warm towel:
            - Apply to affected area for 15 - 20 minutes at a time.
            - Do not apply cold pack directly on the skin, use a thin cloth or towel to prevent the skin from burning.
            - Check the skin every 5 minutes to assess the presence of tissue damage or injury
            - Wait for 1 hour before repeating cold treatment
            - If using heating pads, always check the wires if it has been frayed or damage. Avoid using damaged products.
            - For chronic lower back pains, there are heat wraps that can be bought and reheated for intermittent use.
            - Watch out for discomfort, pain, or redness in the area of application.

              Ice versus Heat for Back Pain

              Here’s a general overview of the benefits and uses of ice therapy in contrast with heat therapy. If you have other medical conditions and health concerns, make sure to talk to your physician because the effectivity of treatment method varies for each person. Example, some may benefit most with a specific mode of treatment, which may not work for the another.

              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.

              Things to Consider for Using Ice or Heat Therapy

              Using cold or heat therapies for back pains are generally safe. They are the most common non-invasive form of do-it-yourself pain relief. However, it is not the only treatment method to cure back pains because it does not deal with the pain’s root cause.

              In most cases, physicians advise using these methods with exercises or medication to relieve the recurring pain.

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