Many times people wonder whether to use ice or heat for a condition like neck pain or lower back pain. This can be a controversial topic. Often patients will be told by their family and friends to use the opposite of what I recommend to my patients.
In general, when pain is present there is inflammation so we should use ice or cold to reduce swelling and pain.
If heat is inappropriately utilized during this inflammatory phase of healing, an increase in blood supply to the already swollen, injured area often results in an increase of pain.
As long as pain is present, ice is usually safer and more effective.
When we use ice or cold in our office we use gel-filled packs. We put them in the freezer and they get quite cold. However, they are too cold to put directly on the skin, so we use at least one layer of cloth cover between the ice pack and the skin. Flannel is a great material to use between the ice pack and skin, but any comparable cloth cover will do. Never put the ice pack directly on the skin.
Where your pain is located will determine how long the ice or cold pack should be applied.
For instance, we would put it on the neck for neck pain for 10 minutes, on the mid back for mid back pain for 15 minutes, and on the lower back for lower back pain for 20 minutes.
It’s also important to apply the ice or cold pack with enough frequency. Three applications of ice per day will typically bring desired results.
Keeping a couple ice packs ready and available in your freezer will make it easy and convenient to use should an unfortunate mishap arise.
I tell my patients: “Ice is nice” and “Make friends with your ice pack”.