A question often asked by patients seeking neck or lower back pain relief is, “Is it better to use heat or cold applications to relieve an episode of back pain?” And the answer is both.
Heat therapy has always been used as an adjunct treatment for pain in neck and back muscles. Although heat therapy is most often associated with comfort and relaxation, the actual healing benefits of heat therapy will have a remedying effect on many of the causes of pain in lower back or neck.
Heat therapy in the form of hot packs (moist heat), hot baths, or some of the electrically induced heat applications (such as ultrasound or diathermy), assist in increasing blood flow to the affected tissue, which, in turn, stimulates the body’s healing response. Sore or strained muscles respond best to heat therapy as the heat results in the muscles being able to relax. Using heat to achieve neck or lower back pain relief will allow greater ease of movement and enable you to perform your daily activities.
Following an injury to soft tissue (i.e. muscles and ligaments), an inflammatory reaction occurs resulting in localized swelling and bleeding. For this reason, cold therapy is used to treat acute back pain (first 48 – 72 hours). The purpose of cold therapy is to control the inflammatory effect, which helps minimize pain and helps you maintain your mobility. Cold packs, ice massage, or even ice baths are used to treat acute low back pain.
In addition to its anti-inflammatory effects, cold therapy can assist in relieving pain through its anesthetizing effects. After about 10 minutes of direct cold application, the skin and underlying tissue becomes numb, resulting in decreased sensation and pain. This numbing effect can assist in keeping you active and recovering faster.
Back pain relief can sometimes be achieved by alternating hot and cold therapy on the same spot. Alternating the two therapies creates a “pumping” action at the affected site by increasing blood flow (heat therapy) and then slowing blood flow (cold therapy). This change in tissue environment will relax the muscle and then decrease the inflammation.
Neither heat nor cold therapy will heal the source of your back pain, but they will help provide an optimum environment for healing to occur.
How to Make a Hot Pack
- Roll a bath towel up and soak it in water.
- Wring out the excess water and place the wet towel in the microwave.
- Heat on high for 10 minutes.
- Carefully remove the towel using oven mitts or rubber gloves so as not to burn yourself and unroll.
- If treating your lower back, place 3 dry towels on top of the wet towel and lay on the homemade hot pack.
- For best results, lay on your back on the floor with your knees bent.
- Total treatment time 5 – 10 minutes three or four times a day.
How to Make a Cold Pack
- Fill a zip lock storage freezer back with crushed ice.
- Add a cup of water and a little rubbing alcohol to the bag, remove all the air, and seal.
- Place in the freezer for 2 hours.
- Wrap cold pack in a wet wash rag and place directly on the skin.
- Apply for 10 minutes every 2 hours.
Hot and cold therapy are effective and convenient treatment methods for lower back pain relief.
More Back Pain Treatment Tips …
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