There is confusion as to when to use ice or heat for sore backs, in this article we get to grips with the best treatment to manage back injuries.

What is cold therapy?

Cold therapy or therapeutic ice therapy is the application of a cold compress to the site of an injury in order to relieve pain, inflammation or swelling.

Applying a cold compress such as a CoolXChange bandage or an ice pack decreases the blood flow to the site of the injury thus decreasing inflammation and swelling. Cold therapy slows circulation, reducing muscle spasm and pain [1]. It is suitable for use on injuries if the area is swollen or bruised.

What is heat therapy?

Heat therapy or thermotherapy is the use of heat in order to reduce pain and promote healing. Heat therapy can be applied using a hot cloth, ultrasound, hot water bottle or a heat pack. Heat therapy is often used for rehabilitation purposes to increase blood flow to the area in order to promote better healing.

Should you use a heat pack or ice pack for a back injury?

Whether to use hot or cold therapy for back pain is highly debated in the medical literature. The “no heat” rule suggests that when medical professionals are in doubt, they should prescribe ice. However, it can be difficult for the average person to have the necessary information to make this call.

The science behind both ice or heat therapy suggests that you should ice or cool an inflammation injury, especially in the first 72 hours of obtaining the injury. And, you should never apply heat to an inflamed area.

The key here is that you need to understand what type of back injury you have. If your back injury is causing inflammation then cooling the site of the injury makes perfect sense. However if your back pain is not inflamed, which is more common [2] then cooling the site may cause you more pain.

As always it is best to consult a medical professional for advice on whether to ice or heat your back injury.

Icing a back injury

If your doctor has indicated that your back injury is inflamed then cooling the site may assist in reducing pain and swelling. The CoolXChange bandage provides low level cooling which means you are able to keep the band on for longer than a conventional ice pack (which requires you to undertake a 10 minutes on, 10 minutes off process). The band also comes in two sizes; the larger being suitable for back injuries. Check out the CoolXChange gel bandage product range here.

Heating a back injury

If your doctor has indicated that your back injury is not inflamed, then icing may provide more discomfort. For example, trigger points or muscle knots in the back can contract when cold therapy is applied to the skin. This aggravates the trigger points causing more pain than relief. In these situations, your doctor may prescribe heat therapy in the form of hot showers and heat packs to relieve the pain felt by these muscle knots in the back. However, it is important to remember that heat therapy is not a miracle cure for back pain, it simply provides mild pain relief.

So do I use hot or cold therapy for my back pain?

As you can see, it is really important have your back pain diagnosed correctly. Particularly, you need to know if your back pain is caused by muscle strain or is non-inflammatory in nature before undertaking heat or ice therapy. See your doctor for more information on whether hot or cold therapy is right for you.

For more interesting posts, check out:
Beginners’ guide to hot and cold therapy
– Simple ways to promote wellness in your workplace
– Not forgotten: First aid kit contents checklist

CoolXChange supports healthy lifestyles. The gel bandage provides cooling and compression with no need for refrigeration making it a perfect addition to your first aid kit.