Back pain is a very common issue many people have. Minor back injuries can happen during everyday activities. Things like gardening, athletic activities, or lifting children can cause back pain. Chronic back pain is a long-lasting issue that affects your everyday life. But is there a difference between treating chronic back pain and acute back pain? Does it matter if the pain is in the lower back? Some people suggest using ice packs. Others swear by heating pads and adequate rest. Some suggest alternating between ice and heat therapy. But when should you use ice or heat therapy? Is heat or ice better for back pain? Read the guide below to find the best way to relieve your back pain.
What is Heat Therapy?
Heat therapy is a versatile treatment option, and you can use it at home. Heat helps to dilate blood vessels in your back, which increases blood flow. The increased blood flow helps promote healing. The heat also provides relief by relaxing the affected tissues. This helps soothe and relieve pain.
There are many options for heat that you can use at home. There are two different types of heat therapies you can apply to get pain relief. It is important to note that you should not use either of these options overnight.
Types of Heat Therapy
Dry heat is easy to use, portable and has a more consistent temperature range. Many options come with timers to prevent skin breakdown. There is a chance of dehydrating the skin with dry heat.
Moist heat uses moisture to get deeper into the tissue. It also has more of an increased blood flow.
When to Use Heat Therapy
Chronic pain in the lower back is usually treated with heat. Discomfort lasting more than four weeks is usually helped by heat. Stiff muscles, muscle soreness, and muscle cramps can all benefit from heat.
How to Apply Heat
For minor back tension or sore muscles, you should apply heat for 15-20 minutes several times a day. For more chronic pain, you can apply a heat source for up to two hours at a time.
Dry heat options include electric heating pad, blankets, and pillows. These are widely available and easy to use. Many heating pads and blankets have timers that shut the device off to prevent overuse.
Another option is a chemical heat pack. They have an adhesive side that you can attach to the inside of your clothing, so you can use them when on the go. There are also heat wraps available that you can wear under your clothing. These items can provide convenient and quick relief.
Moist heat options include a hot bath, a steamed towel, or a hot water bottle. This option may be less convenient, but it allows the heat to penetrate deeper muscles. It also does not dehydrate the skin.
Can Heat Make Back Pain Worse?
There are a few situations where using heat can actually make back pain worse. You should not use heat therapy if you have open wounds or skin inflammation. You should also avoid heat therapy if you have circulation or vascular issues.
If you have pulled a muscle or strained a muscle in your lower back, heat is not recommended. Heating the already inflamed tissue could cause tissue damage and may make the pain worse. In cases like these, ice is a better option for relieving back pain.
What is Cold Therapy?
Cold therapy is also known as ice, ice therapy, and cryotherapy. These are all the same names for treating an injury with something cold. Cold therapy is commonly used for new injuries. You can use cold therapy to relieve swollen or inflamed tissue. Cold therapy also has a numbing effect that helps to reduce pain. Unlike heat, which increases blood flow, cold temperatures restrict blood flow. This reduces swelling and pain.
When to Use Ice for Back Pain
While you can use heat for long-term injuries, you can use ice for fresh injuries (also called acute injuries). For acute low back pain, ice is most likely to be your best bet. Ice is also suggested for soreness after exercise. Applying ice immediately after activity can help reduce and prevent future muscle soreness.
Conditions like sciatica also benefit from ice. Immediately applying some kind of cold therapy helps to reduce pain.
How to Apply Cold
There are many ways to apply cold therapy to an aching back at home. It can be as easy as a bag of frozen vegetables, a frozen ice pack, or ice wrapped in a towel. Make sure to keep at least a thin layer of protection between your skin and the cold packs. A chemical cold pack or a commercial ice pack are also widely available options.
You should only use cold objects for 15-20 minutes at a time to prevent skin damage and tissue damage.
Can Ice Make Back Pain Worse?
Like with heat, you should not use cold therapy on any open wounds or infected areas. You should also not use cold therapy for general muscle aches or muscle knots. Cold can make some muscle aches and pains last longer than they otherwise would.
More likely than not, heat is going to be the answer for back pain.
When to Use Both Heat and Ice for Back Pain
Contrast therapy is using both heat and cold therapy to treat injuries. For fresh and inflamed injuries, you should use ice for the first two days. After the inflammation is gone, you can use heat to reduce pain and increase the blood flow. This helps increase healing.
You can also use a mix of cold showers and warm baths to quickly alternate between heat and cold therapy. Using water is a great way to cover the injured tissues.
What is the Fastest Way to Relieve Back Pain?
Your best bet to manage pain for long lasting injuries is to use heat. Heat can soothe stiff muscles, soothe cramps, relieve muscle pain, and increase circulation.
Sometimes alternating heat and cold therapies can help promote healing. This decreases and increases blood flow in a short amount of time.
If you have an acute injury to your lower back muscles, apply ice to the affected area until the swelling goes down. After several hours, you can try applying heat to see if the lower back pain has subsided.
It depends on user preference to figure out how back pain is best relieved. If you’re already sweating, you can use ice to provide pain relief better than heat would. Or, if you’re already shivering, heat can be a great way to open up those blood vessels and get some healing started.
Back Pain Specialists in Dallas
Need professional medical advice? Visit our experienced orthopedic specialists at SPORT. We make it our mission to get you back to the life you love. Whether it’s physical therapy or advanced surgery, we’ve got you covered.