Most of the times we see patients coming in for the first time, around 95% of the time the patient has used heat therapy to help relieve their pain. To define exactly what we mean by this, heat therapy could be anything from using a heat compress, heated rice pack, a hot water bottle to taking a hot shower or a warm bath. A warm shower is certainly going to loosen off the muscles and going to increase the blood flow through areas of your body that the water hits. If you regularly experience muscle spasms, the immediate relief of a hot shower, or applying heat therapy in general, can feel comforting as it’s going to relax those muscles. So when it comes to pain relief, is Heat or Ice therapy more effective?
However, it’s important to understand when to use heat and when to use ice, because there are specific times when using either of these approaches can be helpful. If you’ve had a niggle or pain for a couple of days, it’s only just appeared and perhaps it came about after going a little too hard at the gym. Applying heat in the first instance may be enough to help soothe the area if it’s muscle stiffness. It can be completely normal to get certain aches or pains that resolve on their own within a few days, it’s when they last for weeks, months or years that you need to have a more intelligent approach. If you’ve got a fresh injury and you’re finding that applying heat for a day or two is not resolving the issue and that it’s coming back, try ice instead to see if that will calm the inflammation.
When To Use Ice & Heat
As the inflammation starts to calm, the muscles will have less of a reaction and will be less likely to tighten up or spasm, but if there are other issues at play in your spine then it may not be quite enough to sustain the lessened inflammation. If you have a spine that is out of alignment, or you have an injury such as a slipped disc, the inflammation could be reduced but will likely build up again until that underlying problem has been dealt with. Ice alone in those circumstances aren’t going to be enough to get the job done, and at that point you should consider seeking treatment for the problem before it becomes something that causes you severe pain that is constant throughout the day.
If you do have pain and generally prefer heat therapy, try to only use this on the muscles for a few days, away from the spine to start with. If that doesn’t resolve in a few days you really should switch over to using an ice pack. Do bear in mind that even if it feels like it’s benefitting you while you have a heat pack on, it’s important to evaluate if it’s having any lasting effect beyond those few minutes. Icing on the other hand, you may not feel the benefits while you are using the ice pack. But later on, or after a few days of consistently using it for short spells interspersed throughout the day you should find it’s making a difference. It is quite normal to feel and become more stiff at first as a result of the ice, generally muscles don’t like the cold so they may well become stiff and hard to move, but try it out for two or three days to see if it makes a difference.
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