I thought I’d share one of the most common questions I get asked about at the Clinic. Patients often want to know whether a heat pack or an ice pack will help alleviate pain and help with treatment. The short answer is yes, depending on the condition.
As a general rule heat application (thermotherapy) is incredibly effective for reducing muscle pain and helping with arthritis whilst cold packs (cryotherapy) can help with reducing inflamed, swollen areas. Some research conducted by the Mayo Clinic has shown that in some cases combining the two works well by first applying cold, then heat. It has also been shown that low level, continuous heat has a pain-killing effect that can give better results than taking medication – always a preferred option.
However, a word of caution here. There is a school of thought that suggests heat application is less useful for back pain where the problem may be lying deep beneath the surface, far away from the heat source. This is a logical assumption. Also, application if ice packs are applied inappropriately they can cause muscle spasms and cramps.
Whatever the case only apply the pack for 15-20 minutes at a time and certainly not more than once every hour.
The upshot is – just ask us. I always recommend ice or heat packs if appropriate for the condition I’m treating and we sell long-lasting, dual purpose packs at the clinic for £5 that some of my patients say they wouldn’t be without. Unlike a frozen bag of peas the gel packs can be used in a frozen state or heated up. They are malleable so they are easy to apply – but whatever you use remember to wrap it up in a tea towel or something similar first. Ice can cause skin damage just like heat.