Should I Be Heating or Icing to Relieve My Back Pain

April 17, 2019 | Back Pain

To heat or not to heat? That is the question you’ve probably asked yourself after an ankle sprain, jammed fingers, or when you threw out your back. Then you probably wonder, “Should I be icing, too? Or maybe I should only be icing?”

Many of us have back and neck pain that impacts our daily lives. Often, we know the cause and can relate it to a specific event or injury, whether it’s back pain after a long run through the New Jersey hiking trails or just from a bad fall. Regardless of the reason, a RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) routine is typically the best place to start. You may be wondering about applying heat, too, but that comes just a little later.

You should rest and apply ice to your back and/or neck for one to three days after the injury or strain. The ice will reduce inflammation and swelling and help promote healing. If you don’t have any ice packs available, you can wet a towel and freeze it into a shape that conforms to your back. Remember to apply the ice pack for no more than 20 minutes at a time.

After about three days, or when the swelling is gone, you should apply heat. It can be a hot shower, bath, or a heating pad. When using heat for minor injuries, just do 15 to 20 minutes at a time. For more severe pain, low heat for 30 minutes to two hours is best. Heat will help relax the tension that has built up in the muscles.

Combining heat and compression and switching between the two is great for healing. Compressing the area with a bandage or gauze wrap can help decrease swelling, but you should be sure not to wrap the bandage too tightly! Doing so can have the opposite effect and cause more swelling.

Although there’s not much elevation you can do for back injuries, when lying down or going to sleep, you should lie on your back with a pillow under your knees and a thin towel rolled up beneath your lower back. This will prevent any additional strain on your back while your asleep.

If you follow the routine of rest, ice, heat and compression, but are still experiencing back pain in New Jersey, you should schedule an appointment with Coastal Spine today!

Note: If back pain is severe, you should immediately consult one of our New Jersey spine specialists before continuing with activity; however, we still recommend this routine in the meantime.