Should You Use Heat or Ice for Back Pain?
Anyone who's ever injured their back knows just how much it can interfere with their daily life, but what many people don't know is whether they should use heat or ice for their back pain.
I get it. I had the same issue myself after a back injury and ended up not getting the relief I needed right away. I was in terrible agony to the point where I could hardly get up or get down the stairs in our house! Never have I experienced this kind of debilitating pain and bodily limitation.
Something that I learned from this experience (that I didn’t know) that may be worth sharing with others in case they find themselves in the same situation... (with severe back pain)
I wish I had read this particular article sooner because I actually did the OPPOSITE of what it suggested which only aggravated my back issue further.
The article inspired me to write this one and really go in-depth on the topic.
I hope that this article helps you in some way. 😊
This is EXACTLY how I felt!
Where I Went Wrong
I had a remedial massage and applied heat first when I should have rested, applied cold and taken anti-inflammatories immediately!
So, after seeing a doctor and getting an X-ray I can see it’s muscular and ligament so now I know the best course of treatment: rest, laying down, little to no sitting until it’s healed, walking and a natural anti-inflammatory diet. See my recent blog here on the best foods, drinks and supplements to take to help reduce inflammation.
So Hot or Cold, Which One?
I started looking around, talked to a chiropractor, am finally able to answer the question of which is better for back injuries: heat or cold. The answer is a resounding it depends...
Whether or not you should use heat or ice on a back injury depends on how recent the injury is—is it a few days old or a few months old? This will make all the difference as to how you treat it.
Heat or Ice for Back Pain? Which is Best?
Here’s the simplest way to look at it: if your injury or pain is less than four weeks old, use ice. This short-term pain is referred to as acute pain and is generally defined as any discomfort that lasts less than six months, but when it comes to icing your back injury, most specialists recommend only icing for the first month.
The reason ice is more effective in this instance is because of your body’s inflammatory response. When you are injured, your body deploys a battalion of white blood cells to the sight of injury, which causes swelling to protect and help heal the affected area. While helpful, this swelling itself can cause tenderness and pain, so the ice helps reduce swelling by constricting the blood vessels. The ice will also help numb the pain. You can also take ibuprofen if needed, to help further reduce the swelling. I took Voltaren to begin with and then moved to turmeric and an anti-inflammatory diet (that can be found here).
If your injury is more than four weeks old, use heat. Applying warmth locally to the affected area will soothe muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments by improving the flexibility of these soft tissues. The heat will also draw more blood to the area, which will provide the injured area with more essential, healing nutrients.
What about a Slipped Disc (Herniated)?
How do I know if I've slipped a disc in my back? That's a great question!
When you have a herniated disc, more often than not, you will know about it because of the pain! It is one of the most common causes of back pain as well as sciatica (shooting pain down the leg).
The only way to know for sure if you're experiencing a slipped disc is to have an MRI scan.
Herniated (slipped) discs can happen to just about anyone - even children (though this is rare). They mostly occur due to spinal wear and tear (disc degeneration). Also, the ageing process can shrink the vertebral discs due to the discs containing less water as we age.
As you can imagine, when a disc shrinks, the space between each vertebra gets narrower, when this happens it can make a person more susceptible to injury.
Other Times You're at Risk of Slipping a Disc?
- Lifting heavy objects incorrectly or beyond your capabilities
- Repetitive strain on your spine (pulling, straining, reaching, twisting, bending repetition can cause weakness in spinal structure and lead to injury
- Frequent driving
- Sedentary lifestyle
A picture of a Herniated Disc, you can see where it bulges out
Symptoms of a Slipped/Herniated Disc
- Sciatica: a sharp, shooting pain you'll feel from the butt down to the back of the leg caused by spinal nerve pressure
- Numb feeling or tingling sensation in your leg and /or your foot
- Feeling weak in your leg and/or your foot
- Losing control of your bladder (if this happens, seek medical care IMMEDIATELY as this may be serious)!
How to Apply Heat or Ice Treatment
It doesn’t matter if you’re applying heat or ice: only apply the compress for 20 minutes, max, and ensure you take breaks of at least two hours between treatments to avoid damaging the nerves and tissues.
Also, remember not to apply ice or a hot water bottle directly to the skin: use a towel to protect your skin from the extreme temperatures.
If you’re like me and you’re fortunate enough to live near cold plunge pools or you have access to an ice bath, this is wonderful. I am finding this is really helping to bring down the pain and inflammation. I use this in conjunction with the warm pools as well and these pools contain magnesium.
A cold pack from the pharmacy or supermarket is also a good option if you don't have access to cold pools or an ice bath.
Stretching for Back Injuries
It’s essential to stretch to help promote mobility and flexibility in your back and to prevent further injury. Don’t worry about stretching immediately after an injury, but once you’re on the mend (which could be anywhere from days to months, depending on the nature and the extent of the injury), you can begin a stretching routine to promote better back health.
I did the silliest thing and began stretching right away while still injured which just served to make everything worse!
Since taking a rest from the stretching and also resting, it is allowing my body to heal. Keep on reading for my top tips on what to do and not to do.
Some of the best stretches for back rehabilitation may include:
I use the word "may" because not everyone will be the same, it is always best to seek professional advice from a physiotherapist or chiropractor
- Child’s Pose
- Standing or Seated Front Bend
- Piriformis Stretch
- Cat-Cow Stretch
- Seated Spinal Twist
- Hamstring stretch
If you have a chronic injury, definitely speak to a chiropractor or physiotherapist before engaging in any vigorous stretching routine, but if you have an acute injury, these stretches, done correctly, can help alleviate pain and reduce the risk of further injury. Taking a collagen supplement can also help increase joint, ligament, tendon, and muscle pliability and repair.
Try our grass-fed, GMO, and chemical-free Perfect Hydrolyzed Collagen and see for yourself. Results won’t happen overnight, but if you keep taking it, you should feel less joint and muscle pain within six months.
In the meantime, remember that both fire and ice are your friends when it comes to healing, but you’ve got to know which one to use when.
PS: here are some things to consider to prevent back pain/back injuries or have on hand if you throw your back out (that have been my experience to hopefully help another)
- Invest in a stretching 🙆🏼♀️ band to regularly stretch out your hamstrings, ITB, groin etc. for stretching when appropriate
- Stretch and release your psoas muscle (there are likely videos on Youtube to help with this)
- Strengthen your core muscles doing things like plank, side plank etc. (I'm not talking about ab crunches here)
- Always warm up PROPERLY before exercise (especially exercise that you rotate your body like boxing 🥊, kickboxing, golf 🏌🏼♀️ etc.)
- Manage your stress and emotions (this is everything!)
- Be mindful of the way you move your body throughout the day (twisting, lifting, bending, pulling)
- Don’t lift heavy things beyond your capabilities and if you do lift heavy things be sure to BEND your knees and STRAIGHTEN your back
- Don’t sit on chairs that are broken and not ergonomic
- Ensure your computer and workstation is fully ergonomic
- Take regular breaks to rest and stretch and even meditate
- Walking is a great stress-relieving form of exercise
- When bending over be mindful of your back
- Avoid carrying things in one arm or having uneven weight
- Avoid stairs if you have hurt your back (this can be tricky if you have a house with lots of stairs - trust me I know!)
- Keep natural anti inflammatories nearby (I love the Fusion Brand - Advanced Curcumin capsules) but don’t discount drugs like voltaren when necessary
- Eat a diet high in anti-inflammation properties (get ideas here)
- Keep cold/heat pack handy
- Keep a bottle of whisky 🥃 nearby for emergency boredom and relief (joking but also serious, and again, this is NOT advice!)
- Have a great mattress and pillow (a good one for posture support is an investment in your spine and health)
- Avoid massage and heat when first injured but rather go for a cold pack, cold pools/ice bath (heat can be applied later when inflammation has been managed)
- Seek proper treatment (Physio, Osteo, Chiro or Doctor)
- See your doctor if notice any of the below
👉🏼a fever of 38ºC or above
👉🏼unexplained weight loss
👉🏼swelling of the back
👉🏼constant back pain that does not ease after lying down
👉🏼pain down your legs and below the knees
👉🏼pain caused by a recent trauma or injury to your back
👉🏼loss of bladder control
👉🏼inability to pass urine
👉🏼loss of bowel control
👉🏼numbness (loss of feeling, or a tingling sensation) around your genitals, buttocks or anal area
Disclaimer: this article is purely intended for informational purposes and not as advice. One must seek proper professional advice from their trusted health practitioner.