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Hot or Cold?

As a Chiropractor we often get asked what it is best for back pain or neck pain, HOT or COLD? There is no real easy answer to that question, because both can be useful and both can cause problems with they are used at the wrong time.

Ice is for Injuries — calming down damaged tissues that are inflammed, red, hot and swollen. The inflammatory process is a healthy, normal, natural process … that also happens to be incredibly painful. Icing is a drugless way of controlling the pain of inflammation.

Heat is for muscles — taking the edge off the pain of whole muscle spasms and trigger points (localised spasms, or muscle knots).

What ice and heat are not for
Heat can make inflammation worse, and ice can make muscle spasms worse, so they have the potential to do some mild harm when mixed up.

If you add heat to an inflammatory process, watch out: it’s going to get worse! If you twist your ankle and add heat to it, it’ll go from the size of a tennis ball to the size of a melon, three times bigger than it had been before. And three times more painful. (That is a rare example of a particularly severe negative reaction to heat. Most cases are not going to be that bad!)

The lesser known threat is from icing at the wrong time, or when it’s unwanted.
If you ice painful muscles, watch out: it’s probably going to get worse! Ice can aggravate muscle spasms and trigger points, which are often present in low back and neck pain — the very condition people often try to treat with ice. Severe spasm and trigger points can be spectacularly painful, like knife wounds, and are easily mistaken for “iceable” injury and inflammation. But if you ice these tissues, woe is you — the muscles are likely to contract even harder, and the trigger points burn and ache even more acutely.

Hopefully this makes it a little clearer what you should use when, but if your unsure please ask your Chiropractor before doing anything. 

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