Hot Or Cold: Which Therapy Soothes Screeching Back Pains?

by Brent Woods

When you are experiencing mind-boggling back pain, it is likely you will get plenty of advice from friends and family members who have had the same problem. Some people swear ice is the only solution, others recommend heat, and even others state it is best to alternate heat and ice. The truth is that each of the treatments is beneficial at the proper time.

Benefits of Heat Therapy

Applying heat to your back helps your muscles to relax. It also helps relieve the pain of stiff joints. Heat is very soothing, particularly in the winter months.

Different Types of Heat Therapy

Using heat to heal your hurting back can be as simple as soaking in the bathtub or taking a long, hot shower. You can also use a heating pad. Many types of medicated pain relief patches are available at discount stores and pharmacies. The medication warms the area and is safe to use as directed. Warm compresses made of small wet towels are also beneficial for back pain. If you experience swelling and sharp pains in the back area, it is best to wait 48 hours before using heat therapy or a combination of heat and ice.

Benefits of Ice Therapy

Applying ice to your back helps numb the pain. It also decreases inflammation. Ice is most effective during the first 2 days after an injury. Many people hesitate to use ice because they don't like being cold. Wear layers or cover up with a blanket so that your body stays warm while the ice does its work. The benefits of the ice therapy are well worth the temporary discomfort of the cold.

Different Types of Ice Therapy

Make a homemade ice pack by filling a quart freezer bag with ½ cup of water and ½ cup of ice. Zip the bag shut and wrap a small towel around it before placing it on your back. The water helps keep the skin from getting cold enough to result in frostbite. Gel packs are available at pharmacies and discount stores. They work well and require no preparation if you store it in your freezer. Another effective treatment is to use a frozen bag of vegetables as an ice pack. Frozen peas work particularly well.

Alternating Heat and Ice

Heat brings blood to whatever area you apply it. When you remove an ice pack, blood flows to the area to restore the correct body temperature. Each method floods the area with nutrition from the blood and flushes out toxins; this encourages healing. Some people feel that alternating heat and ice works best to relieve back pain. Typically, doctors recommend 20 minutes of ice, resting 30 minutes and then using 20 minutes of heat.

Cautions When Using Heat or Ice

It is normal for the skin to turn pink when using either heat or ice therapies. Don't use either method for longer than 20 minutes at a time. This ensures that you don't burn the skin if you are using a heating pad or that you don't experience frostbite from the extreme cold. If the heat or ice therapies don't improve your back pain within 2 or 3 days, seek the advice of a physician such as someone from Bronx Physical Therapy LLP. The problem may be more serious than a strained or pulled muscle.