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When to Use Hot or Cold Treatment for Back Pain


When you are suffering with back pain, whether it is in the neck, between the shoulder blades or in the lower back, it can sometimes be difficult to know what to do. Do you sit, rest, keep active, use heat or cold?

The most common cause of back pain is when the joints of the back become restricted due to abnormal stress such as incorrect posture, degeneration and emotional stress. This causes tightening and inflammation around the joints resulting in the muscles tightening (in order to protect that area of the spine from further trauma). Muscle tightness causes the joint to be even more restricted in movement and therefore causes more joint inflammation and the cycle continues. People suffer from different types of back pain, some with tightening but others without, and therefore they will require a different treatment plan.

Chiropractors have the skill of removing joint restriction by using spinal adjusting to address the underlying problems of back pain.However, secondary problems of muscle tightness and joint inflammation require ongoing treatment so there are certain things a patient can do to relieve the pain.

Cold Treatment

The recommended treatment for back pain without muscle tightness is a cold treatment. This is simply a cold pack applied to the injury, which acts like a painkiller reducing the inflammation.
A Cold treatment can be used in any area of inflammation. i.e. spine or joint inflammation and restriction, knee swelling, sprained ankle etc.

Hot Treatment

For back pain with muscle tightness a hot pack is more suitable. Tight muscles are usually tender to touch, you can sometimes feel pea-sized knots and crystals in the muscle. Using heat relaxes the muscle and improves flexibility. Hot treatment can be used alone over tight muscles when they have contracted due to overuse, or for aches following the muscle being used in a different way.

Hot & Cold Treatment

Leaving a hot pack on the spine for a long time can increase the inflammation and cause the pain to increase. In this case once relaxation has occurred a cold pack is placed over the area to help decrease the joint inflammation.

It is always best to consult a Chiropractor first but the advice is not to rest, but to try and keep active, manoeuvring the joint at least every 20 – 30 minutes. Combine this with the hot or cold method of treatment and you will help relieve the pain resulting in a quicker recovery.