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When In Pain – Heat or Ice?

Many patients perform some self-care when they first hurt their lower back until they can get in to see me. ESPECIALLY AT A TIME LIKE THIS. While home remedies can sometimes make the pain go away, sometimes they don’t. It just depends on what you try.

When a nerve in the low back becomes pinched or irritated, the body will protect the delicate nerves by keeping you from moving and risking further nerve injury. The easiest way for the body to do this is to cause the back muscles to spasm in the injured area.

Muscle pain can be quite severe and heat can sometimes soothe the pain. For this reason, many patients take to the heating pad or to the hot tub to try and get some relief. This should be avoided in an acute injury because inflammation is present. With inflammation, there is increased heat and the additional heat you provide is like adding gasoline to a fire. The results are usually not good.

A better choice with an acute injury is to ice the area, but this also needs to be done with some caution. The simplest ice pack is a bag of frozen vegetables especially if the injured area is not flat like the back but a knee. The vegetables will mold nicely. While ice is effective, you can cause a frostbite injury if you leave the ice on for too long. USE A THIN TOWEL UNDER THE ICE PACK. When you first ice the area, you will go through several phases before some pain relief is achieved. At first, the pack will feel cold. The next phase is a burning sensation and the ice will almost feel hot. This is followed by an aching or throbbing sensation. Just before the area is numbed, a very sharp pain will be experienced followed by the relief you desire. It can take between five to ten minutes to go through all of the phases. Only ice for 15 minutes; then you can ice again 1 ½ hours later.