Skip to main content

Lower back pain is perhaps the most common musculoskeletal issue and almost everyone has experienced at least one episode of backache at some point of their lives. Regardless of the cause or time of the occurrence of pain, back pain can surely give you a tough time! Healthcare providers believe that simple home remedies like application of ice or heat to the site of pain is often helpful in the alleviation of symptoms. Ice or heat therapy helps to relax the affected area and restore the adequate blood flow within the body, especially across the inflamed tissues by reducing swelling or edema. When used properly, these two agents are not only helpful in easing the pain but also in minimizing the risk of recurrence.

How Does Ice or Heat Work?

Heat Therapy

When an appropriate heating object is placed onto the skin, it initiates the process of vasodilation (enlargement or widening of blood vessels). This directly helps in relaxing the muscles while improving the overall circulation. Enhanced blood flow to the inflammatory zones helps in delivering oxygen as well as vital nutrients that are transported to the affected areas in order to produce healing effects. As a result of improved blood flow, the free radicals, toxins and cellular waste products are efficiently excreted from the tissues to promote pain-free healing.

Cold Therapy

Unlike heat therapy, cold therapy causes vasoconstriction (narrowing of blood vessels). As a result, blood flow to the area is restricted and the inflammation responsible for pain reduces to a significant degree.

Should I Apply Ice or Heat?

Ice is best for calming down damaged tissue that is inflamed, red, hot and swollen. Icing is a mild, drugless way of dulling the pain caused by inflammation and best for acute injuries that occurred within the past 72 hours.

Heat is best for chronic pain and stress. It helps to increase blood flow to the tissue which soothes the muscles and releases tension.

How to Apply

Heat therapy can be obtained by using a warm moist towel, heat pack or soaking in a hot bath tub. The recommended time for heat therapy is 15-20 minutes.

Ice therapy is best using an ice pack wrapped in a cloth. Apply to the injured tissue for ten minutes, remove for ten minutes then reapply for another ten minutes to cool the skin temperature. This can be repeated throughout the day every 2-3 hours.

Bottom Line

Ice is optimal for recent injuries occurring in the past 72 hours and heat for longer-term, chronic injuries. If there is a tie-breaker use whatever feels best for you! If you have any questions, please contact one of the practitioners.