Sciatica and Back Pain: When Do I Use Ice?.. And When Do I Use Heat? | Simply Physio
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Sciatica and Back Pain: When Do I Use Ice?.. And When Do I Use Heat?

Confused about whether you should use ice or heat to help ease your sciatica and back pain?... 

Easily one of the most common questions get asked on a daily basis, and it's something that confuses many people too..

"Should I use ice or heat to ease my back pain?"

9 out of 10 of my clients tend to favor heat - a nice hot water bottle, soak in the bath, or a hot stone massage (:  to try and ease their back pain.

I think one of the key reasons is the simple fact that warmth is soothing and relaxing- even the  thought of the cold ice on their back can make you shiver a bit.

As you can appreciate every health concern and injury is different. Sometimes it's ice to cool it down, or heat to help relax It. It can be very confusing!

So when to use ice: There's one time in particular we say to use ice and that's when something just happened and it's very painful, likely inflamed and maybe swollen.

This is an 'acute' injury. Acute meaning it just happened. For example a sprained ankle or a pulled muscle.

When it comes to your sciatica or back pain, the time to use ice is if your back has suddenly seized up on you after an awkward lift and you're in a lot of pain, or you've overdone it and your back becomes very painful towards the end of the day.

You see, your body is actually very clever. Let's use an ankle sprain as an example.. When you sprain your ankle your body will immediately try and protect itself. This is why you get swelling and it becomes very hot and painful.

The swelling is just your body's natural cushion to protect the sprain. The pain and heat comes from the inflammation. Again this is your body's way of trying to protect and heal itself, if something's painful - you're not going to want to move it or touch it are you?

The exact same thing is happening in your back too, you just can't see it.

So your ankle, leg, back, or whatever you've hurt can start to heal without any more damage.

So that's WHY it happens. But this pain can be much worse than the actual injury itself, so cooling it down with ice is a simple method to help ease the intensity of the pain as soon as possible.

And by using the cool ice on the injury (20 mins every hour or so), the cooling and warming of the injury will help the blood keep flowing around the area to help it heal even quicker.

Make sense?

Ok, so now we've got and idea of when's the best time to use ice..

When Do We Use Heat?

Try thinking of it like this... When something is warm it's softer, and when something is cold, it's harder (think of that piece of chocolate that you forgot about in your pocket...! Like most things, when chocolate is warm its softer)... It is exactly the same with our body too.

With that in mind I always explain to my clients it's time to apply heat when you feel more stiff, achy and need to get things moving - that's the perfect time to use heat.

So first thing in the morning if your back's feeling really stiff and tight, a hot shower to loosen the muscles also works wonders. Follow that with some gentle stretches too and you'll feel a huge difference!

Typically if it's something that's been nagging you for some time (chronic), and it's more stiff and achy rather than painful then heat is the way to go. They reason it's stiff and aching is because the muscle and joints are so tight.

Like anything, you warm it up and it's more supple. It's exactly the same with your joints and muscles... Muscles should be able to move, if they're stiff and tight you are more likely to have an injury by over stretching them as they simply can't stretch as far as you need them too.

It's for this same exact reason athletes and any sports people ‘warm up' before doing their sport - so they don't pull a muscle When we're asleep at night our muscles cool down because they aren't being used so our blood is going directly to our brain for our dreams and to our stomach to digest our dinner.. So why don't we 'warm up' first thing in the morning to get us ready for the day?

Don't worry I'm not talking about 10 laps jogging around your neighbourhood. Just a warm shower followed by a few minutes of simple stretching.

Not sure what stretches to do? I always recommend the perfect combination of Yoga and Pilates style stretches to keep your back healthy and pain free.

So key things to remember - If it's just happened and very painful - Ice it!

If it's stiff and tight - warm it up!

For more tips like this on how to ease back pain, click here, where you can download your completely free guide with 8 easy ways to ease back pain:

John-Mark Chesney

John-Mark Chesney

Dr. John-Mark Chesney, PT, DPT, OCS, CDNT helps people in Knoxville stay active, healthy and mobile - so you can spend time doing the activities you love instead of sitting at the doctor’s office. His practice, Simply Physio, specializes in helping people in their 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s move and feel better without the use of prescription pain-killers or procedures like injections or surgery. For more than a decade, 1000’s of people have trusted John-Mark Chesney with their healthcare questions concerning aches and pains. He has been providing solutions for people who suffer from disabling pain, solutions that don’t involve pain medication, braces, injections, or surgery. He works with people 40- 60+ on a daily basis and has completed extensive training on the most effective, research supported, hands-on treatments and healing movements that can give fast relief to people who suffer from muscle and joint pain. Clients seek out John-Mark Chesney as he has built a reputation for helping people regain their independence and return back to an active and healthy lifestyle.
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