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  • Writer's pictureTanvi Desai


Updated: Apr 8, 2020

Ice or Heat? Which one is better?

New patients always ask me if they should use Ice or Heat for their neck or low back pain.

I keep it pretty simple to remember for at home use. It is important to keep ice and heat separate.

The general rule of thumb is use ICE For SPINE and Inflammation. Use HEAT for MUSCLES.

Here is why we use ICE for the Spine: blood vessels run alongside with nerves in your spine. The blood vessels bring healing properties to the injured area – also known as inflammation. Inflammation is important for healing, but it also puts a lot of pressure on the nerves, thus creating PAIN. (Keep in mind this is not the only factor that creates pain, but ICE helps reduce pain induced by inflammation.) Ice will constrict the blood vessels, which will reduce the amount of inflammation to the area of injury, thus reducing the intensity of pain temporarily.

On the other hand, HEAT is not recommended for any nerve related issues. Heat dilates the blood vessels and increases the output of inflammation to the area of healing. Increased amount of fluid creates increased pressure on the nerves, thus eliciting more pain.

So when should you use heat?

Use HEAT for muscle healing. Adding heat to muscles, Increases blood flow for healing to the muscles, thus calming the muscles down. Muscle thrive when they are warm. So next time you have muscles cramps, soreness or do an intense workout use heat on the muscle belly, and stay away from the spine.

SO ICE for the SPINE and HEAT for MUSCLES!

This is an overly simplified rule of thumb, for at home use. Ice and heat can be used in more complicated ways for more specific injuries or conditions by your health professional. Always consult your provider for more complicated conditions.

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