Hot vs. Cold: Which Temperature Should You Use and Why?

Back pain is a common complaint amongst people of all ages, stemming from a vast variety of acute and chronic injuries. Aside from pain medications, some of the most prevalent advice for treating back pain at home is the application of heating pads or ice packs.

Cold and heat therapy — also known as cryotherapy and thermotherapy — may provide minor relief to symptoms of pain, inflammation, stiffness, and swelling. However, it’s not always clear when one is more useful over the other.

The experts at Ideal Spine often recommend heat and cold therapy to patients experiencing back pain. It’s important to understand what heat and cold can do for your body and when it’s appropriate to apply each.

Examining the benefits of cold and heat therapy

Applying ice is often recommended after an injury because cold temperature can reduce the inflammation in the affected area. Cold temperatures reduce blood flow by constricting blood vessels, limiting the natural inflammatory chemicals the body creates and sends to injured tissue. For this reason, ice is typically used to reduce swelling.

Cold therapy may also reduce sensitivity in the nerves to reduce pain, as well as prevent scar tissue from forming in the injured area.

Heat therapy, on the other hand, does almost the exact opposite. Applying heat may increase blood flow to the injured area, assisting the body’s natural inflammatory response. This brings oxygen and nutrients to help the body heal.

Heat may also be useful in reducing stiffness and relax tense muscles and tissues, reducing soreness and pain.

Which is best, and for what?

When it comes to choosing the right temperature for at-home therapy, the trick is understanding your injury and what your body needs. For many types of acute, or fresh, back injuries, the answer of hot versus cold is actually both.

Generally, applying ice is recommended for the first few days (24 to 72 hours) after an injury. This may help relieve the immediate flood of inflammation, since the injury will begin to get inflamed right away.

After the inflammatory response dies down, the choice between heat and cold is up to you. It might be useful to alternate between the two for pain relief and to promote healing. Heat may make inflammation worse and cold may make stiffness worse, so it’s very important to try to identify the symptoms you’re experiencing and choose the form of therapy that will counteract that.

Whether you use heat or cold, never use ice or heat for longer than 20-25 minutes at a time. Make sure you wrap a cloth around the ice or heat pack you use and avoid direct contact with skin to avoid damage and burns.

Chronic pain is different

It’s also important to note, treating acute injuries is not the same as managing chronic back pain. Chronic pain problems are very individual and will require individual treatment plans. You’ll want to experiment with ice and heat therapy to figure out which temperature helps ease your pain, stiffness, and inflammation the best.

Unfortunately, heat and cold therapy is not the be-all-end-all form of treatment for chronic back pain issues. You’ll most likely want to combine at-home treatments like heat and cold therapy with professional therapies like chiropractic care.

A chiropractor may be able to create a more comprehensive treatment plan for you, including adjustments, exercise, physical therapy, stretching, and massages, in addition to at-home pain relief treatments.

If you’re experiencing back pain, whether acute or chronic, visit a skilled chiropractic professional trained by Ideal Spine. Our network of chiropractors uses a Chiropractic BioPhysics (CBP) approach to examine your symptoms holistically and treat the problem at its source.

Chiropractic BioPhysics® corrective care trained Chiropractors are located throughout the United States and in several international locations. CBP providers have helped thousands of people throughout the world realign their spine back to health, and eliminate a source of chronic back pain, chronic neck pain, chronic headaches and migraines, fibromyalgia, and a wide range of other health conditions. If you are serious about your health and the health of your loved ones, contact a CBP trained provider today to see if you qualify for care. The exam and consultation are often FREE. See for providers in your area.

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