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.
Deciding between heat or ice for back pain can be tricky. The best place to start is by considering the pain’s source and what is causing the discomfort. The following conditions can benefit from cold therapy.
There are several different methods for icing your lower back. For instance, you can perform ice massage therapy, which entails gently rubbing a chunk of ice over the affected area to help numb your back and reduce any pain. You can also apply ice without any massage if you have a store-bought or makeshift cold compress, such as a bag of frozen vegetables.
If you use ice for back pain, remember not to leave any ice directly on your skin for a prolonged period to avoid potential burning. If you plan to leave the cold compress in place, wrap the ice pack in a thin washcloth or a couple of paper towels to create a layer of protection between the ice and your skin. You can ice for up to 20 minutes at a time.
Is heat good for back pain? The answer depends on what type of back pain you are trying to address. If you are living with chronic pain or discomfort that lasts for more than four weeks, heat may help relax the tissues in the area and decrease pain signals. Heat can also encourage blood vessels in your back to dilate, which can promote healing.
Like cold therapy, heat therapy is a versatile treatment that lends itself to several options.
If you use heat for lower back pain, it is vital to protect your skin. Make sure whatever heat source you use is warm rather than hot, and do not leave it on your body for too long.
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.
If you plan to regularly use heat and ice therapy, it can be helpful to have both options on hand. If you work out first thing in the morning, you can keep an electric heating pad plugged in by your bed. Wake up, get some heat on your back muscles, then dive into your workout routine. It can be helpful to keep a few different cool packs in the freezer so they will be ready for use whenever you need them. Cold showers and hot baths can also be a beneficial way of augmenting your go-to cold and heat therapies.
Whether you are doing individual cold or heat therapy or a combination of both, always remember to protect your skin. Set a timer for your therapy sessions to ensure you do not leave the ice or heat on your back for too long.
You can treat occasional back pain at home with heat and cold therapy, but chronic back pain or recurrent issues mean it is time to go to a doctor. At DISC, our team diagnoses and provides care for a wide range of conditions that cause back pain.
Pain severely affects your quality of life. Instead of ignoring your back pain, you can proactively find the root cause and start treatment to reduce your pain and reclaim your life. Schedule an appointment online to get started.