Doctors Answer: What is Better for Lower Back Pain, Heat or Cold?
Whether you spend your days lifting heavy weights or typing at a desk, lower back pain seems to affect everyone at one point or another. Any injury or prolonged discomfort or pain that affects our core is a serious matter, since our core supports and strengthens the rest of our body. If you’ve already been looking online for back pain solutions, you’ve no doubt seen that both heat and cold can help alleviate pain.
However, the question remains: What is better for lower back pain, heat or cold? Keep reading to find out when you should use heat, when you should use cold, and what other actions you should take to help eliminate your back pain once and for all.
What Causes Lower Back Pain?
In Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection by John E. Sarno, MD, Dr. Sarno stated, “Neck, shoulder, and back pain syndromes are not mechanical problems to be cured by mechanical means. They have to do with people’s feelings, their personalities, and the vicissitudes of life.” He emphasizes that back pain is commonly the result of psychological pain made manifest in our physical bodies. He goes on to say about back pain, “Patients often report pain in a new location as the old one gets better. It is as though the brain is unwilling to give up this convenient strategy for diverting attention away from the realm of the emotions.”
While some lower back pains might indeed be the result of unresolved psychological pain, that is definitely not the only cause. If your pain is chronic and doesn’t seem to have a clear physical reason, then it might be worth it to seek a solution in psychological services. However, if your back pain is relatively new, or if you know it is the result of a specific time you pulled your back, twisted your spine wrong, or tried to lift more weight than you could really handle, then the solutions and treatments you should be seeking should definitely be in the physical realm.
Initial Steps to Take in Resolving Lower Back Pain
Whether physical or psychological, lower back pain affects every aspect of your life and must be properly treated in order to restore you to a higher quality of life so that you can enjoy all the activities that make life so wonderful to live. One of the easiest ways to improve the health of your spine and neck is to ensure that they are properly aligned. Visiting a chiropractor is definitely worth it to assess your alignment and to see if that is indeed the underlying problem.
However, there are many things you can do at home to alleviate pain that is the result of misalignment. Our side sleeping Pillow Cube is specially designed to help align your neck and spine so you wake up happier, and our Knee Cube is helpful for those who want even more support and comfort while sleeping. Both come in specialized cooling designs—the Side Sleeper Ice Cube Pillow and the Cooling Knee Cube—to aid in keeping you cooler throughout the night so you don’t wake up due to excess heat.
What Is Better for Lower Back Pain, Heat or Cold?
Both heat and cold applications are common treatments for relieving pain in various parts of the body. Cold is generally used to reduce inflammation and slightly numb painful areas, while heat is more used to relax muscles and aid in muscle cramp relief. However, sometimes a combination of heat and cold is necessary to help solve specific problems
When to Use Cold to Alleviate Back Pain
If you are experiencing back pain as the result of a specific injury, then cold compresses are key for reducing pain, swelling, and inflammation.
- Michael Guo, MD, with Duke Health, says, “When your back first starts to hurt, try taking an over-the-counter pain reliever and applying ice in the first 48 hours.”
For ultimate relief, use cold compresses throughout the night as well. To avoid having to wake up every couple of hours during the night to replace your melted ice pack, see our Ice Cube Cooling Pillows selection. They are specially designed with frozen fibers to keep you cool all night long.
When to Use Heat to Alleviate Back Pain
If your back pain has persisted long enough to be considered chronic, then applying heat can help your muscles relax and help your spine to feel some relief by increasing blood flow. If you’ve already tried using cold compresses to alleviate your pain and that didn’t help enough, it may be time to try using heat as well.
Doctor Guo further recommends, “You may apply heat after 48 hours. You may need to take it easy for a while, but it’s best to stay as active as tolerated, and to avoid absolute bed rest.”
What if Heat and Cold Aren’t Doing Enough to Heal My Lower Back Pain?
While we all wish that every bodily ailment was as simple to fix as merely applying heat or cold compresses, that isn’t always the case. Many more serious causes of back pain can require more drastic measures. Back pain may be linked to issues in the nervous system, in which case you should see a neurologist, especially if you are experiencing numbness or tingling sensations in your extremities or any other part of your body. Back pain may also be linked to issues in the joints of the back if they are inflamed, in which case we would recommend seeing a rheumatologist. Physical therapists, physiatrists, and orthopedic spinal surgeons can also provide extensive help in cases of severe back pain.
Dr. Kowalski of Harvard Health said, “People with symptoms that aren’t responding to treatment are great candidates for pain management, such as injections or procedures to smaller joints in the lower back.” Of course, when it comes to pain management, the use of heat and cold application are very important and effective.