Temperature therapy in the form of heat or ice is one of the most common remedies for back pain. However, these methods aren’t always meant to be interchangeable. In some situations, it makes better sense to apply ice, and other times you’re more likely to experience relief with heat. Dr. Hyun Bae and the staff at The Spine Institute want to share some guidelines to help you determine whether to ice your sore back or soothe it with heat.
Ease Swelling and Inflammation with Ice
As soon as your back pain becomes noticeable, start with ice first. Generally, cold therapy works best within the first 24 to 72 hours following the injury. The sudden chill works on muscles by reducing swelling and inflammation. Cold also causes veins to contrast, allowing more room for inflamed muscles to flex. It also numbs tissues that are sore and minimizes the inflammation that can press on nerve roots and trigger pain.
Tips for Applying Ice to a Sore Back
The shock of the cold is a good thing in terms of how it can provide instant relief. However, you don’t want to apply ice directly to the skin since this can be too much of a shock for sensitive skin tissues. Place some type of cloth between your skin and the ice. Also, remember to:
- Apply the ice for 15 to 20 minutes at a time
- Move the ice around to different parts of the affected area
- Limit your use of ice to about 8 to 10 times within a 24-hour period
Encourage Healing with Heat
After the initial swelling and inflammation has eased, heat applications can promote tissue healing. Heat works by getting rid of “cellular waste” and increasing circulation within the affected area of your back. The boost in blood flow delivers more oxygen and beneficial nutrients to the tissues that were damaged or irritated by the injury.
Tips for Applying Heat to a Sore Back
Heat can be applied to your back as dry or moist heat. Dry heat, the kind you get from a heating pad, is more convenient but may irritate skin if used too often. Moist heat is the kind of heat you can get from a warm towel or shower/bath. You may want to avoid heat therapy altogether if you have skin problems or a condition like diabetes that affects circulation. Also, remember to:
- Apply the heat in 10 to 15 minute intervals
- Be mindful of the temperature of the heat or warm water used
- Avoid direct dry heat applications to your skin
Some people with chronic back pain or periodic muscle spasms have better results by alternating heat and ice applications. Determining what’s right for you is usually a trial and error process. Heat and ice can also be applied with topical creams, gels, rubs, or specially designed packs. Check with your doctor or pharmacist for more tips on methods that may benefit you. Also, if your back pain isn’t getting better after a few days of heat and/or ice applications, make sure to see your doctor or a professional back surgeon. Beverly Hills residents trust in the surgeons at The Spine Institute Center to help them find relief.
If you are experiencing severe back pain, make sure to get it checked out as soon as possible so you can begin living a pain-free life. At The Spine Institute, we specialize in minimally invasive back surgery. Beverly Hills patients who need help managing their pain should call 310-828-7757 to schedule an in-person evaluation.