Heat vs. Ice for Back Pain

Whether or not to use heat or ice for back and neck pain is a question I am asked almost daily. The answer: it depends. Within the healthcare community there is much debate over whether or not to use heat or ice for certain diagnoses. Depending on the research you read, you can find evidence in support of using either. Is there a placebo effect? Maybe. If you ask one chiropractor to the next they may recommend something different, and I can understand that would be frustrating and confusing for patients.

My advice to my patients starts with the type of injury. For example, arthritis of the spine typically responds better to heat, and a back sprain typically responds better to ice. For acute, or "sudden" injuries to the neck or back, I recommend ice. If you sprained your ankle, which is also an acute injury, it is common practice to use ice. If swelling is involved, heat will create more swelling as it encourages blood flow to return to the area. Heat is more commonly used to relax muscles, and improve blood flow to a painful region.

As a general rule of thumb for chronic neck and low back pain, I recommend heat to start the day, or prior to activity. Activity can include sitting at your desk, going to the gym, or lifting heavy objects at your job. At the end of the day or following activity, I then advise patients to use ice. This can be applied to most situations of neck and low back pain.

If you do use ice it should never be used for longer than 20 minutes. After 20 minutes of ice, the body will begin to experience hypothermia symptoms. The bodily reactions to hypothermia actually counteract the potential benefits of ice. In short, if you ice an area for longer than 20 minutes without a break you are making the situation worse.

If you are experiencing neck or back pain and would like to know if we can help you at Rochester ChiroTherapy contact us at rochesterchirotherapy@gmail.com, or message us at our website www.rochesterchirotherapy.com