Ice or Heat: Which is A Better Option for Neck and Back Pain Treatment?

Should I use ice or heat for neck pain? This is a question that is often asked by many when they want to use ice or heat therapy for treating the pain in neck, shoulders or back.

To be true, the real answer is “Both”. However better understanding is needed on the same, before you try any of them for your pain relief. There is a great chance that the answer gets misinterpreted otherwise.

The answer “both” does not mean that for the same situation both ice treatment and heat treatment should be used. It just means that both can be useful but in different situations. You should diagnose your condition, symptoms and causes; and then choose the one that is right for getting the relief.

Ice or Heat for Neck Pain

Heat or Ice for Neck Pain: What to Choose and When?

There can be different pain causing reasons and the basic reason that causes the pain or inflammation should be treated. It is based on this reason the decision relies about which treatment has to be adapted.

Some pain is caused due to muscle cramps, some are caused due to muscle knots and some are caused due to muscle injuries. As there are many reasons that causes neck or back pain, it becomes very difficult to understand when ice therapy has to be applied or when the heat treatment has to be taken.

This article puts a light on certain conditions where ice works better than heat treatments. There are instances when heat treatment works better than ice treatment. The discrimination will be done based on the root cause of the pain or the situation that lead to the pain. The different situations that lead to neck or back pain are:

  • Fresh injuries
  • Tissue fatigue or Chronic overuse injuries
  • Wear & Tear Arthritis
  • Inflammatory Arthritis
  • Muscle spasm
  • Pinched nerve
  • Trigger Points
  • Lower back pain and neck pain

The treatment can be provided based on which situation leads to immense pain, inflammation or other issues. Perfect treatment can be suggested only after diagnosing the reason. After doing proper diagnosis the treatment can be given as follows for the respective situation that created pain.

When is Ice Pack Prescribed and Used?

Ice pack for pain is generally used in the following cases:

  • Fresh injuries
  • Tissue fatigue or Chronic overuse injuries
  • Wear & Tear Arthritis
  • Inflammatory Arthritis

Ice pack is prescribed and used for cases like fresh injuries and tissue fatigue or chronic overuse injuries. Applying heat increases the inflammation and causes more inconvenience in such cases. Therefore Ice packs work well in these scenarios and help relieve the pain.

Fresh injuries are the injuries which bring physical changes to the skin. The skin becomes hot and red in colour when met with a fresh injury. The skin also becomes very sensitive to touch. This means that the injury is still fresh and treating such injuries by applying heat therapy increases the inflammation caused due to the injury. The pain also magnifies if heat is applied on such injuries. These kinds of injuries should be thus treated with ice.

Ice is useful for cases like Tissue fatigue or chronic overuse injuries too. There are many cases in which this condition happens like in carpal tunnel syndrome, supraspinatus tendonitis, tennis elbow, patellofemoral pain syndrome, iliotibial band syndrome, plantar fasciitis and shin splints.

Ice treatment can be done at home using ice cubes or ice packs which are now available easily online.

When is Heat Pack Prescribed and Used?​

Heat pack for pain is generally used in the following cases:

  • Muscle spasm
  • Trigger Points
  • Lower back pain and neck pain

Muscles contract often which results in severe pain leading to muscle spasm. The facet joints that belong to the spine get inflamed or injured and this results in lower back pain. This sometimes limits the movement of the body. Heat treatments work well on these types of muscle spasm.

Pain on trigger points like the tender areas of the muscle should also be treated using heat treatment method. Lower back pain and neck pain are usually treated by using heat therapy. Using cold treatments in such scenarios increases muscle spasm and pain in the trigger points are increased that lead to severe muscular pain throughout the body.

Knife injuries pain very high and in such cases heat treatment works better than ice treatment as ice might increase the contraction and also the pain. Heat on the other hand increases circulation and gives more immunity to the body.

You can use hot bags, hot shower or a hot bath for getting the heat treatment for pain relief.

Things To Take Care

The only thing that has to be taken care is that you should not use the ice or heat treatment for longer duration of time or else you might suffer from burns or tissue damage. It is always better to avoid the treatment when you are sleeping or else severe tissue damage can be resulted.

The above points discussed have to be noted carefully and efforts should be put in to understand the real cause of your neck or back pain. Apply heat or ice only after understanding the reason for the pain or else the chosen treatment method can show negative effects.

The treatment done wrongly – heat used instead of ice or ice used instead of heat in certain situations- aggravates inflammation, muscle stress or pain instead of reducing the pain.


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