To quote Olaf from Frozen, “The hot and the cold are both so intense. Put ’em together, it just makes sense.” Well, the same goes for employing heat and ice to help alleviate lower back pain. It’s so simple, inexpensive, and readily available that it often gets overlooked as a beneficial treatment. Alternatively, you may just not be sure when to use which. In this blog, we discuss the “why,” the “when,” and even the “when not” for using heat and ice so you can find a balance for effective pain relief.
First, to know which treatment is best for you, assess what you feel in your body. “We recommend using the ‘painful or stiff’ rule of thumb,” advises Dr. Rick Gross of Quality Care Chiropractic. “Use ice when it hurts and use heat when it’s stiff or aching.” These treatments often are applied after an acute injury, but, Dr. Gross adds, often “it’s hard to tell by the timing of the injury. Some people use ice only in the first 24–48 hours, but many people experience back pain for months or years after an injury or have pain that started gradually over several days or weeks.”
As simple as it seems, the timing of ice and heat application is critical. Using them at the wrong time actually can worsen your condition because the temperature differentials affect blood flow and therefore healing.
Ice reduces blood flow by constricting blood vessels, so it should be used when you want to decrease circulation to an inflamed area. Heat, on the other hand, increases blood flow by dilating blood vessels and increasing circulation.
Generally, use ice with an acute injury that resulted in increased inflammation, blood flow, swelling, and pain. Applying ice reduces inflammation, swelling, and pain and increases healing speed. Dr. Gross concurs, “The low back is inflamed or still injured when there is pain (such as sharp, shooting, or stabbing) or numbness and tingling. In those cases, use ice first.”
General Cold Guidelines: Every case is different, but here are a few helpful tips:
Heat is good for chronic or long-term issues with dull and achy pain or muscle tightness. Heat increases flexibility of muscles, which decreases pain and improves function. “If you feel like it’s just hard to move and you are not as flexible because the muscles in your lower back are aching and stiff, then try heat first,” says Dr. Gross.
With an injury, once the initial inflammation and swelling have subsided, switch to heat. This stimulates blood flow and helps facilitate healing. It may decrease stiffness and prevent pain signals from traveling to your brain.
General Heat Guidelines: Again, every case is different, but here are a few tips:
This practice uses heat and ice together to affect the dilation and constriction of blood flow to the injured area. Start dilating the blood vessels with heat then follow by constricting the blood vessels with the ice. This creates and active pumping effect and generally is used after the first 72 hours of an injury.
You may wonder whether it is safe to apply heat and ice regularly as a preventative measure? Of course. They can have great benefits when used in your daily routine. Here are a few ideas:
Although heat and ice are amazing healing partners in many painful situations, it’s not the treatment for everything! For one, do not apply heat or ice to open wounds. In addition, don’t use ice if you have circulatory issues or use blood thinners, and don’t use ice or heat if you have sensation issues (e.g., peripheral neuropathy, diabetic neuropathy). Please consult your doctor or chiropractor if you are unsure.
If you have any questions or want to learn more, contact Quality Care Chiropractic at (630) 499-2225.Schedule an Appointment