You know that sitting in a warm bath can help to ease muscle aches, and that putting a piece of ice on a bee sting helps to calm the throbbing. But can heat and cold help when you’re experiencing something more serious, like an injured neck or back?
Though heat and pain won’t fix an injury, it is an excellent way to address the injury’s symptoms and help you feel better as you go through the healing process. One of the biggest advantages of using heat therapy and cold therapy to treat your pain is that you can do it yourself, in any room of your home with no cost, no side effects, no fear of addiction. It can facilitate your recovery, helping it to move along more quickly by reducing the inflammation that accompanies new injuries and helping get you back on your feet and returning your range of motion for injuries that are a bit older. Here’s what you need to know about pain management with heat and cold therapy.
Though it may seem low tech, there is science behind the use of heat and cold therapy, and that science begins with knowing when each should be used. If your injury is new it will result in sharp, acute pain and will lead to swelling and inflammation. That is when you want to use cold therapy. The goal is to take the heat, inflammation and swelling out so that the healing process can begin.
By contrast, if the swelling is no longer with you and your injury is a bit older, you are likely experiencing a duller, chronic pain. That is when you want to turn to heat to loosen things up and provide the ability to move your muscles more easily.
To understand why cold therapy works, all you need to know is how the body responds to injury. Whether it is a bee sting, a bump on the head, a sprained knee or an injury to your neck or back, the body responds by sending fluid to the injured area. Though this is part of the healing process, the immediacy of it can lead to extra pain, especially if there is a great deal of heat and swelling involved. Putting ice on the area will both numb the pain and reduce the swelling to the local tissue by constricting the blood vessels that are carrying fluid to the injured area.
By contrast, when you apply heat to an area of your body, it dilates the blood vessels and speeds the process of bringing fluid to the area. That is why once swelling has gone down, heat works to speed healing as well as to soothe stiff, sore muscles and spasms. The older the injury, the more that heat is likely to help. Heat is also an excellent therapy after exercise, as it helps to speed up the flow of lactic acid, removing it and improving range of motion.
If you are suffering from back or neck pain that is not responding to home remedies, you may need additional medical attention. Contact our lumbar spine specialty practice in New Jersey to set up an appointment or speak to one of our professionals.