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Which is Better For My Back Pain? Heat or Ice?

Updated on February 11, 2015

Choosing Ice or Heat for your Pain. Is there a difference?

Here is an example of a trisectional hot and cold pack that can be used on the neck, upper back and shoulders. Notice also that it has straps to keep it in place.
Here is an example of a trisectional hot and cold pack that can be used on the neck, upper back and shoulders. Notice also that it has straps to keep it in place.

The Real Dilemma for Patients: Heat or Ice?

Here is a dilemma for many people when they get injured or are in pain. They get so confused as to what they should apply. Should they reach for that bag of frozen peas or put hot pack in the microwave?

Here's the thing: heat or ice are all natural. You aren't going to get side effects from using them, they won't internally harm your body. That being said, if one feels better than the other or you like one a lot better, go ahead and use it.

The general rule of thumb is to use heat to loosen up an area. Use ice if there is inflammation. So if you have an area that's really tight and inflamed too; use ice to take the inflammation down, then use heat to loosen and continue to relax the region.

When Does Heat Work Well?

When we have a pain or condition that has been there awhile and is more chronic heat is usually the treatment of choice. When we get past that initial phase of the injury most inflammation has gone.

Heat feels good and relaxes the muscle or affected tissues. The way it really works is that it helps blood flow, especially bringing it more to the surface. It's this blood that carries healing cells to the needed region, as well as waste materials away from that area.

The Times When Heat Should be Used:

to relax the muscles
chronic injury
increase flexibility in the muscle
long standing neck or back pain

When Does Ice Work Well?

Ice works well for a couple of reasons. First, it completely numbs an area taking away pain that way. Next, it brings down swelling and inflammation. Too much inflammation will start to put pressure on nerves. Take away that pressure and take away that pain.

The Times When Cold (Ice) Should be Used:

ankle sprain
knee sprain
to reduce swelling in the joint or area
right after an injury
after a work out
acute injury
to reduce inflammation

What does R.I.C.E mean ? What does it have to do with having an injury?

R.I.C.E. is the acronym for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevate. Have you ever injured your ankle for example. What did they have you do? Rest and relax, sit down in a chair. Wrap your ankle with ice; to compress it on there maybe athletic tape put around the ice pack. Then put your leg up on a chair or stool.

Update: There has been more and more research done that, for an ankle sprain, get up and move around on it first. This naturally lets the body do what it needs to do for healing. We can then use ice after this. After all, the reason heat or ice are all natural is that we are just helping the body along in its healing, we are not using any artificial substance to take pain away.

How to Use a 9x16 Hot and Cold Pack for Your Neck, Shoulders and Upper Back?

The Proper Way to Use a hot or cold pack

Wrap Your Hot or Cold Pack in a Towel Before Using it directly on your skin
Wrap Your Hot or Cold Pack in a Towel Before Using it directly on your skin

Some More Tips for Using a Hot and Cold Pack at Home..

Now we have gel packs to use. These are great, because all you have to do is keep one in the freezer for a ready to go ice pack, keep one in the closet that can be thrown in the microwave for a hot pack. No Fuss, No Mess...

One tip to using ice therapy safely, is to always wrap your ice pack in a towel. This will prevent ice burn from the cold therapy pack. See below, an example of a patient receiving cold therapy on their lower back area.

A cold pack in action: being used for lower back discomfort

Using a hot and cold pack on the lower back area.
Using a hot and cold pack on the lower back area.

Which is the more popular choice?

Which Do You Prefer?

See results

Do you use ice or heat for pain relief?

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    • profile image

      N. Nieblas 

      3 years ago

      Where can I purchase the trisectional hot and cold pack shown in this article? Thank you, N. Nieblas

    • Arc4life profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Florida

      Thank you for stopping by!!! - arc4life

    • Alphadogg16 profile image

      Kevin W 

      5 years ago from Texas

      Nice, well written and informative article Ms Arc4life, thumbs up.


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