If you frequently experience back pain, you probably have a favorite over-the-counter remedy. One of the most popular remedies is called Icy Hot, which is available in various forms, such as creams, sprays, gels, sleeves, and patches. Basically, Icy Hot works by cooling down the affected area and irritating it to some extent with heat to block pain sensations. Below is an honest, unbiased assessment of this product.
If you find yourself constantly searching for effective pain relief from over-the-counter remedies, your pain may be due to a serious issue that requires specialized medical intervention, such as total disc replacement. Santa Monica residents who experience sudden, severe, or prolonged back pain should see a spine specialist right away.
Let’s start by looking at the specific ingredients you’ll find in Icy Hot products. The three active chemicals used are menthol, methyl salicylate, and capsaicin.
Menthol, derived from peppermint and similar herbs, “cools” the affected area by activating a cold-sensing receptor protein (TRPM8). Methyl salicylate is an organic compound that comes from different plant species. It works by irritating the skin enough to block pain signals in the affected area. Capsaicin—the same stuff that gives chili peppers their kick—heats up tissues enough to provide pain-relieving benefits by stimulating the affected area.
Icy Hot is a counterirritant, meaning it blocks pain signals by purposely causing minor irritation or inflammation in the affected area. This concept is based on the gate control theory, which suggests the brain cannot process painful and nonpainful input at the same time. The best way to illustrate this concept is with an example. Let’s say you have poison ivy and you take a hot shower. The heat from the shower counteracts the pain you’re feeling from the poison ivy, so you experience noticeable relief. In a nutshell, this is counterirritation at work, which is the same thing Icy Hot does.
What Icy Hot does do well is block pain signals by stimulating nerves within the top layer of skin in the affected area of the back. What Icy Hot doesn’t do so well is penetrate soft tissues deeply enough to produce any significant healing. However, most back pain is caused by damage to muscles, ligaments, or tendons that support the spine in some way. If you just have minor soft tissue irritation, Icy Hot can provide short-term relief, especially if your back pain is due to a relatively minor strain or sprain. In instances like this, Icy Hot isn’t “healing” anything. Instead, it’s blocking pain signals long enough for your body to naturally heal spine-supporting muscles without distracting pain. If you have chronic back pain coming from other sources, you’ll likely experience discomfort again after Icy Hot wears off. Icy Hot—or any other over-the-counter product, for that matter—won’t relieve back pain due to: • Pinched or compressed nerves • Damaged spinal discs, vertebrae, or joints • Structural problems with the spine itself Like most over-the-counter remedies, Icy Hot won’t address the source of your back pain. It’s perfectly fine to use a product like this for times when you need instant relief. However, if you’re having recurring spine-related discomfort, it’s better to see what your Santa Monica spine surgeon has to say. Most people with back pain benefit more from a comprehensive treatment plan that includes various forms of physical therapy and appropriate lifestyle adjustments.
If you’re living with severe or chronic back pain, make sure to see a doctor right away for proper diagnosis and effective treatment. The spinal health specialists at The Spine Institute are proud to offer the most innovative treatment methods to help patients find relief and get back to the activities they love. Give us a call today at 310-828-7757 to schedule a consultation.