At our chiropractic office in Natrona Heights, PA we often utilize ice or heat as part of our treatment. We are often asked when to use ice for neck or back pain and when to use heat for neck or back pain or for at home treatments.
Treating Pain with Cold therapy
As a general rule of thumb, use ice for acute injuries or pain, along with inflammation and swelling. Use heat for muscle pain or stiffness.
How it works
Cold therapy is also known as cryotherapy. It works by reducing blood flow to a particular area, which can significantly reduce inflammation and swelling that causes pain, especially around a joint or a tendon. It can temporarily reduce nerve activity, which can also relieve pain.
When not to use
People with sensory disorders that prevent them from feeling certain sensations should not use cold therapy at home because they may not be able to feel if damage is being done. This includes diabetes, which can result in nerve damage and lessened sensitivity.
You should not use cold therapy on stiff muscles or joints.
Cold therapy should not be used if you have poor circulation.
Applying cold therapy
For home treatment, apply an ice pack wrapped in a towel or ice bath to the affected area. You should never apply a frozen item directly to the skin, as it can cause damage to the skin and tissues. Apply cold treatment as soon as possible after an injury.
Use cold therapy for short periods of time, several times a day. Ten to 15 minutes is fine, and no more than 20 minutes of cold therapy should be used at a time to prevent nerve, tissue, and skin damage. You can elevate the affected area for best results.
Always apply ice wrapped in multiple layers or towels to avoid cold burning or blistering your skin.
Never lay on or sit on ice. Always apply on top; not under.
Potential risks of cold therapy
If you’re not careful, cold therapy applied for too long or too directly can result in skin, tissue, or nerve damage.
If you have cardiovascular or heart disease, consult your doctor before using cold therapy.
If cold therapy hasn’t helped an injury or swelling within 48 hours, call your doctor.
Knowing when to use cold therapy and when to use heat therapy will significantly increase the effectiveness of the treatment. Some situations will require both. Arthritic patients, for example, may use heat for joint stiffness and cold for swelling and acute pain.
If either treatment makes the pain or discomfort worse, stop it immediately. If the treatment hasn’t helped much with regular use in a few days, you can make an appointment to see your doctor to discuss other treatment options.
It’s also important to call your doctor if you develop any bruising or skin changes over the course of treatment.