Heat or Ice? Which is best for my back pain?

Ice vs heat, pain relief, chronic pain, acute pain 

One of the most common questions patients ask us is 'when to use ice and when to use heat alleviating back pain?

An acute injury i.e. a slipped disc, sciatica, sudden back pain or a sports injury is usually accompanied with swelling and inflammation. 

In these circumstances Ice would be recommended for the first 48 to 72 hours after the injury. Ice helps to reduce the swelling by constricting the blood vessels.

Additionally, ice soothes acute pain by causing numbness in living tissue.

It is highly recommended that you do not apply the ice directly to the skin (to avoid frost bite). We normally recommend applying the ice for 10 minutes per hour over the affected area.

Heat is generally more helpful with chronic injuries that have occurred over time, like re-occurring injuries or tightness. 

These conditions would respond better to heat, since heat tends to dilate (open up) blood vessels thereby increasing blood flow.

Similarly to ice, it is best to apply heat in cycles, so 20 – 30 minutes on each hour.

If the skin becomes painful or inflamed then please stop applying heat.

You will find a few quick examples of what you should use with certain types of injuries in the full version of this article on our website when dealing with an acute back pain caused by lifting, a pain caused by wear and tear and a sports injury.

If you are suffering with an old injury or regular discomfort in your back, do something positive about for your health today.