Lower back pain is a common occurrence and can be painful to the point of temporary disability or just a nagging pain. Either way, which is the most effective in home treatment of lower back pain, heat or ice?
Well, it depends on what is causing the back pain. Generally speaking, icing any part of the body decreases pain by numbing the nerves and interfering with the pain signal. Good so far; except when the pain is the dreaded spasm or muscle knot. Icing may diminish the pain, but generally does not feel good and can tighten the muscle causing the spasm to experience sharp pain. If this happens, don't continue with ice.
Proper icing removes pain causing inflammation, causes vasoconstriction which limits swelling and fluid accumulation for faster healing. MDs recommend 10 to 15 minutes of icing several times a day for a new or critical muscle or soft tissue injury.
Applying heat increases blood flow which for a new or critical muscle or soft tissue injury will increase inflammation, swelling, throbbing and delay healing.
So, when to use heat? Use heat when icing does not feel good, particularly on lower back pain caused by a spasm or muscle knot. Often this kind of back pain is susceptible to external factors such as stress; sort of the body's way of telling you to slow down. The best treatment is relaxation to relieve the stress, moist heat applied while lying down and time; usually 3-7 days.
Recent studies have shown ibuprofen taken as directed and rest for lower back pain spasms is more effective than any of the prescribed pain relievers such as oxycodone or other opioid pain medications.
So treat your lower back pain with ice if it feels good and relieves pain; or treat your lower back pain with moist heat if you have spasms and muscle knots.
For a back compression wrap that can be frozen for icing or microwaved for heating, see coldone.com.
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