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Heat or Ice?

Patients always ask physicians if they should use heat or ice on an injured or painful area of their body. As a general rule is often recommended that ice can be used for the first 24 hours of pain to decrease pain and swelling, but heat may be used thereafter to increase circulatory flow and promote healing.

The facts are that there is some evidence that heat will decrease low back pain, but there is little proof that cold will help. Patients will need to decide which feels more beneficial to them.

How to use heat for low back pain:

  • Apply for 15 to 20 minutes at a time
  • Moist heat is better than dry heat
  • If using a heating pad avoid burns
  • Pharmacy heat wraps may be beneficial

How to use ice for low back pain:

  • Ice in a plastic bag covered with a towel
  • Ice pack
  • Bag of frozen vegetable
  • Ice area three times a day for approximately 20 minutes
  • Ice after vigorous exercise or prolonged activity

Try alternating:

  • Switch between heat and cold
  • Use heat for 15 to 20 minutes then ice for 10 to 15 minutes

To learn more about Dr. Cotler or to schedule an appointment please call us at (713) 523-8884

Howard B. Cotler, MD, FACS, FAAOS is board certified and recertified in Orthopedic Surgery. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgery and the American College of Surgeons.

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