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Back Pain Therapy - Ice Pack Or Heating Pad?
I cannot tell you how many times I've had patients come to physical therapy for back pain therapy and ask that exact question. They want to know which is more effective, or, should they be using both. If both ice and heat are needed, then how often and for how long should they be used? In this article, I am going to answer these questions for you.
Though heat and/or ice have never been scientifically proven to eliminate pain when used alone, I believe they offer benefits in the treatment of back pain. Personally, I think the use of heat/ice is good for the fact that they can provide temporary relief of back pain. This allows you to exercise and move around in less pain, which ultimately increases the rate at which you are able to recover.
Ice, when used shortly after an initial injury or flare up (within the first 48 hours), is effective in limiting the amount of inflammation or swelling at the site of an injury. This is important because inflammation and swelling cause pain and stiffness. They can also limit range of motion in a muscle or joint and make it difficult for you to stay active after an injury.
When using ice as a form of back pain therapy, only use it for 15-20 minutes, but never longer. You can cause further damage to the tissues, including frostbite, by icing for too long. Once you remove the ice pack, allow the area to warm up for at least an hour before re-applying.
Heat can also be very beneficial for back pain therapy; however, it is not recommended to use heat after an initial injury (within 48 hours). Applying heat within that 48 hour window can increase swelling and inflammation because heat increases circulation.
The increased circulation heat provides is a fantastic benefit after the first 48 hours. By increasing blood flow into and out of the injured area, the heat helps to 'flush' the swelling out of that area. Additionally, heat helps to relax muscles, which generally allows one to move easier and with less pain.
Again, application is for 15-20 minutes at a time with ample (at least 1 hour) time for your back to rest between application. Be careful when applying heat so that you don't burn yourself by leaving it on too long or getting the heat source too hot. Also, never fall asleep with heat on your back.
Remember, heat and ice both have some positive benefits for helping back pain, especially when you understand the correct way to use them as a back pain therapy treatment. The unfortunate part about hot and cold therapy is that the results can often be temporary as they do not address the underlying cause of the pain, which is the problem with using them alone
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