Heat or Ice for Back Pain- Which Is Best

Updated on March 3rd, 2020
ice or heat for back pain

Chronic back pain may be the result of conditions of slow-development, which cause a dull but steady ache from time to time. This kind of chronic pain can be caused due to the condition of spinal stenosis symptoms. This particular symptom is caused by the continuous overuse of a certain muscle or muscle group over a period of time.

This type of chronic and acute pain may be a result of lifting and twisting of muscles. The usage of heat or ice for back pain substantially helps relieve such pains. It is a very simple, economic and drug-free approach.

Do You Know?

  • Heat treatments provide blood circulation. Cold therapy decreases blood flow.
  • Alternatively using heat and cold therapy(1) helps in the pain relief that is obtained by tenuous physical exertion.

Heat Therapy

Hot Pack

Heat therapy can be defined as the application of heat to the affected and inflamed area. This helps in the dilation of the blood vessels, thus promoting increased blood flow. Increase in the blood flow helps in the relaxation of sore and tightened muscles.

It also eliminates the lactic acid waste that builds up after intense physical exertion. Owing to its analgesic properties. It also has a psychological effect.

Heat therapy for back pain is said to be more effective than cold therapy for chronic back pain.

[Also Read: Natural Remedies for Back Pain]

Different Types of Heat Therapy for Back Pain

There are different types of heat therapies available. Some of them include the use of:

  • Heated paraffin wax as a treatment.
  • Application of heat pad for back pain on the affected area. Some heat pads available online are hot water bottles, heat wrap, and electrical heating pads.
  • Medications, rubs and heat patches for back pain are also available online.
  • Hot baths wherein the temperature is approximately between 92 degrees and 100 degrees Fahrenheit. In Celsius, it should be somewhere between 33 degrees and 37.7 degrees.

Dry or moist heat packs can be applied for up to 8 hours or 2 hours respectively. However, it is said that moist heat packs are more effective in the reduction of back pain. The heat should be applied to the area for 20 minutes, at least 3 times a day.

Usefulness of Heat Patches for Pain Relief

Heat patches are highly effective in case of back pain. However, it is not only useful for backs. It can also be used for other sources of pain reliefs such as:

  • Tendonitis
  • Strains
  • Sprains
  • Warming up of stiff muscles of the body
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Pain relief due to spasms of neck and back injury

The application of heat patches on the neck, however, might provide relief in terms of spasms but might lead to headaches.

A study conducted in the year 2006 confirmed that patients with back pain, who are physically active and applied CLHT (Continuous Low Level Heat Wrap Therapy) experience lesser amount of back pain than those who do not(2).

CLHT treatments are scientifically proven to act more effectively in case of back pain than oral medications such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and analgesics. However, the effect of heat therapy varies according to the depth of the tissue that is affected by any kind of pain or injury.

[Also Read: Cupping Therapy for Back Pain]

Cold Therapy

Cold Therapy

Cold therapy is quite the opposite of heat therapy. It reduces the blood flow to the affected area. This slows down the rate of inflammation, reducing the risk of swelling and tissue damage. Apart from the usual action, it also numbs the area, thus acting as an effective anesthetic.

Ice pack for back pain is pretty useful, especially after 48 hours of injury. Cold therapy includes the RICE process (rest, ice, compression, elevation). However, it is to be duly noted that the ice should not be directly applied to your affected back.

Different Types of Cold Therapy for Back Pain

The cold therapy for back pain relief includes:

  • Massage to your back with ice cubes or ice packs in slow and circular motion around 2 to 5 times a day for 5 minutes each.
  • Application of a cold compress or ice pack on your aching back for 20 minutes straight for every 3 to 6 hours for 3 days. There are many cold compresses available online.
  • Taking a cold bath, thus immersing your back in cold but not freezing water.

Ice should not be applied for the bony parts of the spinal column. In case of an ice massage, the ice is not to be directly applied to the skin for a long time. If applied, it should not stay in a single spot or place.

[Also Read: Acupressure for Back Pain]

Usefulness of Ice Packs for Pain Relief

Cold therapy is not only applicable to chronic back pain. It is also used to heal the following:

  • Tendonitis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • A current injury
  • Strains
  • Gouts
  • Migraine

So what is better? Is it ice or heat for back pain?

Heat is not advisable to be used on a fairly newer injury, an open wound or if the person is feverish and has a high temperature. The temperature should be adjusted to a comfortable range.

Ice should not be used if the body is already cold. Application of ice on your back would only tense the muscles, making the pain worse and uncomfortable.

Individuals with chronic back pain must take his or her pain into account, with all the information available, which should help derive the best solution and treatment.

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