Home Care: Heat or Ice?
Ice helps with inflammation and heat helps relax muscle tightness. Often there is a bit of both where the spine is involved, although reducing inflammation is the priority in my opinion.
Research and opinions have varied greatly in what to recommend over the years although I’ve made a few observations of my 25+ years in practice.
The first observation is, if you’re feeling the cold already, a cold pack is not going to make you feel any better. Alternatively, if it’s hot and you’re feeling the heat, putting a heat pack won’t be comforting either.
The second observation is, if you use the ‘wrong’ one you won’t make the problem much worse. It just won’t feel any better, so if cold seems to make no difference at first (or you feel slightly worse), try heat next time.
If I see a patient and I can palpate (or feel) inflammation I’ll usually recommend that they apply an ice pack (gel pack wrapped in a tea towel) when they get home. Leave it on for 15 to 20 minutes and repeat 2 to 3 hours that day. As long as the pain is reducing, I might recommend switching to heat in about 48 hours. I like the microwaveable ‘heat wheat’ packs. Use the same timing for heat which is 15 to 20 minutes on each 2 to 3 hours.
If a patient has an area of ‘stiffness’ that repeatedly feels tight and uncomfortable where there appears to be no inflammation I will usually recommend heat packs, applied as I’ve described above.
Sometimes I find that alternating hot immediately with cold helpful. Apply heat for 10 minutes, then cold 10 minutes, repeating each 2 to 3 hours.
Some people find application of hot or cold makes little to no difference. Other’s find it makes a big difference so it’s worth giving it a go.
Dr Patrick Maher – Chiropractor Brisbane CBD