Back pain is a common experience for most people throughout their life. Whether over a prolonged period or through an injury, back pain can limit our mobility and affect our quality of life, even preventing us from enjoying activities like we used to.

Applying ice and heat is one of the oldest and most effective remedies for back pain, but which is best for your situation or injury? Should you use both at the same time or at different times? Should you even use them at all?

Here’s what our experts had to say about choosing between ice and heat for back pain.

Types of Back Pain That Benefit from Ice or Heat

Most pain affecting your back can benefit from ice or heat. Certain injuries include:

  • Sports injuries, sprains, falls, overextension.

  • Blunt force or other impact.

  • Chronic Conditions, such as Herniated or Degenerated Discs, Spinal Stenosis, and Spondylolisthesis

  • Aches from poor posture or excessive time in a single physical position (sitting in a chair all week).

  • Pulled back muscle from excessive strain or force (i.e., lifting weights)

  • Exercise-induced muscle soreness is caused by overdoing a specific exercise or exercising without warming up.

When Not to Use Ice or Heat

There are certainly times when both ice and heat should be avoided altogether. If you have recently incurred an injury and there is an open wound (bleeding; loss of any type of body fluid), ice and heat should not be applied.

Both should be avoided if there is any skin damage in the surrounding painful area, and heat therapy, specifically, can be dangerous when used to treat spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.

How Ice Helps Back Pain

Ice or cold therapy is usually the first remedy to combat back pain. Cold can help reduce inflammation and swelling caused by the injury and reduce the overall pain. By acting similarly to a local anesthetic, applying ice to an injury slows nerve impulses, decreases tissue damage, and interrupts the pain-spasm reaction often accompanying back pain. The cold will create a sense of numbness, and the reduced inflammation has compounding effects.

How Heat Helps Back Pain

Heat or heat therapy works in an entirely different way. Applying warmth stimulates blood circulation to the affected area by dilating blood vessels, promoting healing from the increased flow of nutrients. Individuals who can apply heat to their injured back muscles can help relax, directly reducing pain.

Which is Best?

The remedy that is best for your back pain primarily depends on the nature and duration of the injury.

Recent injuries are usually inflamed and swell, so for the first 72 hours, cold therapy is generally recommended to treat the injury. Acute back pain, specifically a back injury lasting 0-4 weeks, is well treated with ice fist but requires heat after the first few days. Depending on the severity, heat should be applied intermittently for several hours or days.

For subacute or chronic back pain injuries lasting 4 weeks or longer, health professionals usually encourage using ice for the first few days. After initial swelling and inflammation have subsided, a steady, consistent application of heat is the optimal way to encourage healing. Commercial adhesive wraps or electric blankets serve this purpose well.

Finally, aches and stiffness from poor posture should be treated with heat to loosen up muscles in the morning. And long, strenuous work days or workouts should be treated with ice immediately to decrease inflammation.

As you can tell, situations where ice or heat is better than the other for back pain vary considerably. Cold therapy devices such as the Polar Care Wave and the NICE1 are the most popular for applying cold and ice to injuries. At the same time, the TheraTherm and ThermoActive are perfect solutions for applying heat.

Heal Your Back Faster

The proper application of ice and heat has been scientifically proven to help reduce inflammation, swelling, and pain while increasing the speed of recovery. Fortunately, Medcom Group offers extensive medical device options that make ice and heat therapy as efficient and effective as possible.

Whether you need ice and heat therapy devices or care for an individual who does, don’t hesitate to contact our team immediately. Our experience in ice and heat therapy guarantees you’ll get the help you’re looking for!