Hot and Cold Treatments: How to Use Hot and Cold

Using either heat therapy to relax muscles and improve circulation, or cold therapy to reduce swelling and inflammation, may be effective back pain treatments. Generally, icing an area may be good for acute back pain caused by trauma or injury, and heat therapy is often good for muscle tightness and spasm and stiffness in the back. You may try one of these two treatments if you think that it would be appropriate, relative to the back problem you have. If you are not sure how to use either of these types of treatments correctly, then you should consult with your doctor or healthcare provider. Here are some general tips below on how to use hot and cold to treat back pain.
  1. Use heat or cold only in 15-20 minute intervals. Using either of these treatments for longer than 20 minutes may cause irritation to the skin or harm to the tissues underneath.

  2. Don't use either of these types of treatments at extreme temperatures that could be harmful to your skin or body.

  3. Don't apply hot or cold bags/packs directly to your skin; put a towel between your skin and the packs.

  4. When using any hot or cold treatment, your skin should be clean, without any types of creams, lotions, or oils on it.

  5. Try not to fall asleep while using any of these types of treatments. It could be dangerous to fall asleep while using ice packs (frostbite), heating pads (burns), or in a hot tub (drowning, unsafe changes in blood pressure). Try to remain alert until the end of the treatment so that it does not last beyond the 20 minutes at a time. If you use a heating pad, turn it off before going to sleep to prevent burns. Some types of heating pads come with easy on/off buttons so that you don't have to get out of bed once the hot treatment is over, before going to sleep. The Thermophore Automatic Moist Heat Pad Arthritis Pad from Battle Creek ( even comes built in timer to prevent the patient from suffering from overheating/burns after going to sleep.

  6. Use a mattress pad or electric blanket to reduce stiffness, either in the morning or at night. If you have increased stiffness upon wakening, then you should turn it up before getting out of bed, to give your sore and stiff muscles a chance to warm up. Follow the manufacturer directions to ensure that these devices are used safely.

  7. Consult with your doctor before using any types of hot or cold treatments, and especially if you have any type of medical condition that affects blood pressure, your skin, or circulation in your extremities. Patient who have the following medical conditions may want to avoid hot and cold therapy to treat back pain: gout, heart disease and vasculitis or Raynaud's phenomenon, a condition that causes the blood vessels in the arms and legs to go into spasm - resulting in skin discoloration and numbness or tingling, in response to stress or cold temperatures.
You should contact your doctor with questions before using any of these treatments, or if you think you have suffered any negative effects do to the use of hot or cold therapy.