“Should I use ice or heat when my back hurts?” VIDEO TRANSCRIPT
Hi Everybody. My name is Doctor David Martin. I’m a chiropractor at Precision Chiropractic here in South Durham North Carolina, and this is the Get Your Life Back video series.
You know, my patients ask me every day, “Hey, Doc, should I use ice or should I use heat on an injury or should I use some sort of combination.”
I’m going to tell you what I tell them: you should only use ice on an injury. Don’t ever use heat.
And here’s why ….
When you injure yourself, the blood vessels open up and heat and blood come rushing into an area that’s been injured. That blood carries with it all kinds of nutrients and proteins that help heal up and repair the damaged cells and tissue in that area.
And it also carries a lot of debris and all the other junk that needs to be cleared up in that area.
So, a little bit of inflammation is a really good idea. But a lot of inflammation is NOT a good idea. And when you put heat on an injury, it increases that swelling and inflammation.
Think about it this way. If you’ve ever been to a Durham Bulls game, or if you’ve watched DUKE or UNC or NC State or Wake Forest any of those teams play, any of those athletes play, you’ll never see them run off to the sideline when they’re injured and put a heating pad on. What are most of those guys going to do?
They are going to go over to the sidelines and put on an ice pack to help reduce that swelling and inflammation. And you should do the same thing.
Benefits of Ice
Ice is a huge benefit immediately following an injury—or even a hard hike or workout—because it constricts blood vessels to reduce the flow of blood to the area. Too much blood leads to inflammation, swelling, pain, and loss of mobility.
Best use of ice
- Protect your skin by wrapping the ice pack in a towel (wet or dry).
- Let ice rest at the site for at least 15-20 minutes. The area will feel slightly numb.
- Remove and wait 30-60min.
Any random search on the internet brings up opinions about ice vs. heat. Many of them say to limit the use of ice to the first 24 hours. That’s one partially true. Yes, the most effective time to use ice is immediately following the injury. But when my patients come in with neck or back pain, or even pain in the joints, ice can be effective regardless of the time of the injury.
Ice is often an excellent choice following an adjustment because inflammation is always present at the point of subluxation (misalignment) in the spine. Ice relieves pain and reduces swelling, assisting in the recovery process as the body releases tight muscles and restores nerve health.
Hazards of Heat
“Hazzards of Heat” makes a good subtitle, but heat isn’t all bad. Let’s start with the advantage of heat: it’s comforting. It’s relaxing. It feels good emotionally.
Another apparent benefit of heat is that it reduces pain. But the reason it’s reducing pain is because it slows the number of pain signals the brain sends to that area. But it doesn’t slow the flow of blood to the area. Ultimately, a reduction in swelling and inflammation is what the body needs to heal faster and keep you moving without discomfort. Heat does the exact opposite. Heat sends more blood to the area, so in the long term it actually makes things worse.
Heat isn’t all bad. But heat is best limited to gently relaxing muscles that are sore and stiff. Heat works well during a massage for example. Heat can ease tight muscles and help you relax. But, see, even here, heat could pose a danger. The truth is the body often tightens muscles as a protection against further injury. An example of that is when your spine is out of alignment, the muscles surrounded the unbalanced vertebrae will immediately tighten to protect further damage. The last thing you want there is to add heat so that the muscles relax and leave the spine unprotected.
If you force the muscles to relax without fixing the injury, it can make you more vulnerable and cause further damage. This danger doesn’t exist when we use ice. Ice won’t make muscles relax, but it will help them from becoming inflamed with blood and protein so you can enjoy maximum mobility as you heal.
If you find you’re regularly in pain and reach for an ice pack, don’t wait to get checked out. Call our office at 919-794-4455 to schedule a time to see the doctor, or click the button below to schedule an appointment now: