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nebule's avatar

Cold packs v. Heat packs for back and neck pain?

Asked by nebule (16159 points ) October 4th, 2010

I’ve always thought that heat was the best thing for aches and pains but I’m currently trying cold packs. I have a lavender wheat bag which I recently discovered can be used cold as well as hot by putting it in the freezer!

Anyhow, currently have chronic neck and back pain, which I think is caused by stress and general bodily tensions. I’ve tried exercising, which just made the pain worse.

ANYWAY! What are your experiences? Are cold packs better than hot packs? Are they more useful for certain types of injury? What’s the science behind them both? My doctor just said it depends on the person… but I’m not convinced that this is entirely scientific!

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16 Answers

llewis's avatar

I think it depends (for me, anyway) on if there is inflammation involved. If the skin is hot and tender, I use a cold pack. For fresh injuries or irritations I also use a cold pack. Once the inflammation is reduced I switch to heat. Or if heat doesn’t seem to do much I go to cold. I’m a heat junkie – it’s hard for me to remember that cold might do a better job! :P

llewis's avatar

BTW, I make my own “hot and cold” packs by sewing a cylinder and filling it with cheap white rice, and dripping some lavender essential oil in it, then sewing it shut (double seams all around to keep it from leaking rice!). I can freeze it or stick it in the microwave (generally don’t use that for food, just for hot packs!). Wonderful for toasty tootsies at night!

GeorgeGee's avatar

Cold for an injury with swelling
Heat to loosen strained or pulled muscles and tight joints.

Cruiser's avatar

Do yoga 3 times a week for at least 6 weeks…my guess is you will not need your lavender bag of wheat after that or sooner.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Alternate hot then cold to get blood increases for healing of area. Ten to fifteen minutes at a time for hot then ten to fifteen minutes of cold.

BoBo1946's avatar

Rule of thumb: If you just injured neck or whatever….use the cold pack for first 24 hours, then use a heat source thereafter.

tedibear's avatar

What @GeorgeGee said is what works best for me. Sprained ankle = ice. Lower back ache from period cramps = heat.

prolificus's avatar

I’ve a herniated disc in my lower back. If I use heat, it causes the muscles to relax and makes the pain worse. When I’m having a “bad back day,” I prefer to use a cold pack for no more than 20 minutes. Biofreeze works well, too. I have both the spray and roll on gel.

Tomfafa's avatar

Cold pack… Heat pack… wish I knew, but a jet pack could probably take you away from it all!

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

As many of you may know, I live with chronic pain of the neck, shoulders, and back. I find I can bear the thought of applying cold, but I know heat sure feels good when I am in more pain than usual.

nebule's avatar

@Tomfafa :o) That would be lovely!

@BoBo1946 can’t seem to see the article?

@Dr_Lawrence I didn’t know you were in so much pain. hugs and thanks xxx

BoBo1946's avatar

Finally found it @nebule !

Start within first 24 hours:

Rest—Do not do activities that cause pain, such as running, jumping, and weightlifting using the lower leg muscles. If normal walking hurts, shorten your stride. Do not play sports until the pain and local tenderness are gone.
Cold—Apply ice or a cold pack to the calf area for 15–20 minutes, 4 times a day, for several days after the injury. Wrap the ice or cold pack in a towel. Do not apply the ice directly to your skin.
Compression—Wear an elastic compression bandage (eg, Ace bandage) around your lower leg to prevent additional swelling. Wrap from the toes up the leg so as to not cause swelling below the wrapping. Be careful not to wrap the bandage too tightly.
Elevation—Keep your leg higher than your heart as much as possible for the first 24 hours to minimize swelling.
It is best not to take aspirin or ibuprofen during the first 24 hours if you have a lot of swelling. Those meds interfere with the clotting mechanism.
Continued care:

Heat—Do not use heat at all during the first 3 to 5 days. Use heat only when you are returning to physical activity. Then use it before stretching or getting ready to play sports.
Stretching—When the acute pain is gone, start gentle stretching as recommended by a health care professional. Stay within pain limits. Hold each stretch for about 10 seconds and repeat 6 times. Repeat stretches 4 to 6 times during the day.
Strengthening—Begin strengthening exercises for your calf muscles as recommended by a professional. This is very important to guard against further problems.

lonelydragon's avatar

The general rule I’ve always heard is to alternate hot and cold treatments. Make sure to take a 20 minute break after each session with a hot or cold pack.

BoBo1946's avatar

@lonelydragon agreed, but a word of caution to bruised muscle that may have some internal bleeding, wait 48 hours before applying heat.

tacres's avatar

Go see a massage therapist.

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