There are many options for relieving back pain, and cold therapy and heat therapy are two of the most common. Both have potential benefits, though there are also some potential drawbacks to each, so understanding these pros and cons can help you decide which method might be best for you. If you’re struggling with chronic or acute back pain, keep reading to find out how cold therapy and heat therapy might affect your pain management strategy.
What is heat therapy?
When you use heat to treat back pain, a hot pack or heating pad is applied to a specific area of your body. This increases blood flow to that part of your body, which can relax tight muscles and ease pain. What are cold therapy pads? Like heat therapy pads, cold therapy pads cool your skin directly over tight or sore muscles in order to reduce pain and inflammation. There are many different types of ice packs and other cooling devices available at local pharmacies. Here’s how they compare
Why heat therapy isn’t a good solution
If you’re suffering from back pain, your first inclination might be to reach for a heating pad or ice pack. But both may cause more harm than good. A study published in The Spine Journal concluded that a combination of hot and cold treatments can lead to nerve damage after just a few days, so if you’re planning on using heat or ice packs as part of your therapy, don’t use them regularly.
What are some heat therapy alternatives?
Heat therapy is becoming a popular method to treat muscle pain, but it’s not your only option. Don’t be afraid to try some different approaches to treating back pain. As an alternative to ice packs, consider purchasing an infrared lamp. The red light these lamps emit penetrates deep into muscles and warms them from within—an effective way to treat both acute and chronic back pain. You can also use hot water bottles (which have been around since at least 1842) as an alternative form of heat therapy for your lower back.
What is cold therapy, really?
Besides having a snappy name, cold therapy is generally synonymous with ice packs. Using an ice pack to ease back pain can have both short-term benefits—reducing inflammation in affected areas—and long-term effects, depending on which type you use. If you do decide to invest in one, be sure that it’s made with a gel pack instead of something like crushed ice: They’re smaller than regular packs, and they’ll conform better to your body.
What types of cold therapies are there?
There are a few different types of cold therapies, but ice packs have become one of most common methods to treat lower back pain. That’s because they’re simple and affordable: all you need is a pack of frozen peas, an ice tray, or even a baggie filled with water. You can choose to apply cold directly on your skin by placing an ice pack over your back—or use some layers between you and it, such as a towel or shirt.
Does icing make injuries worse?
The idea that icing an injury will make it worse is a common belief—and there is some evidence to support it. In short, inflammation plays a crucial role in tissue repair. When you use cold therapy (ice or cold packs), you reduce blood flow to an area, which decreases inflammation in that spot—but it also slows down healing, too. So if you’re icing frequently, your body has a harder time repairing tissues effectively.