Should I use ice or heat for neck pain? This is the question which patients always face when there are injuries or muscle pain of the neck, sometimes we are recommended to use cold compresses and in others to apply heat. How do you know when to use both resources? Learn to differentiate the properties of each one and how to apply them to achieve a successful recovery.
When do we apply cold or heat to ease neck pain?
A fall, an overexertion or any physical activity that we carry out without adequate preparation can cause injuries or inflammations that, if treated properly, are easily recovered.
The treatment of injuries often includes the application of cold or heat, complemented by anti-inflammatories, analgesics and bandages, among other measures. However, when we are not specialists or health professionals, it is difficult to know when it is convenient to apply one of these alternatives to facilitate recovery.
Contact with cold or heat, as appropriate, acts by preventing inflammation in an area affected by an injury, calms joint pain and promotes muscle recovery, so it is important to know when and how to resort to its application.
Keep aching joints warm, but cool in acute pain
Pain is an unpleasant sensory perception that, regardless of whether it occurs acutely or chronically, significantly reduces the quality of life of those affected. As the most natural forms of neck pain relief, many use heat or cold before resorting to pain medication.
In the case of acute neck pain, i.e. sudden, pain such as injuries to ligaments, muscles or wound pain after operations, cold often helps to relieve it.
In the case of chronic neck pain, i.e. Permanent, complaints, heat is more useful. Especially with some chronic diseases that are associated with pain, heat treatments – supplemented, for example, with radon – are often the only way to combat the torments.
Note: In the case of fibromyalgia, rheumatism or nerve pain, painkillers are often only of limited help.
When to apply cold?
Cold is used as initial treatment in most musculoskeletal conditions. If there is an inflammation or acute injury resulting from a blow or muscle or joint strain, cold compresses should be used. These should be applied during the first 48 hours after the injury.
The low temperatures of the cold compress cause the contraction of the blood vessels (vasoconstriction), reducing the blood flow that reaches the affected area and thus controlling the inflammation. In addition, this technique reduces tissue damage and helps relieve pain in the affected area.
You Should Consider That: Cold Numbs The Pain
Put an ice pack on the area that hurts the most. That can make things a lot easier. The reason: ice has a slightly numbing effect, because the cold inhibits the blood flow in the affected area and thus interrupts the transmission of pain stimuli.
For example, a frozen cloth that has been soaked in salt water beforehand, often helps against tension headaches. Or you can take ice cubes from the fridge, which you can simply crush in a plastic bag if necessary. Gel-containing cold packs from the pharmacy are even more practical.
In the case of acute neck pain, cool the affected areas several times a day for one to three minutes. In the case of inflammatory pain, it should be up to 30 minutes, because the longer exposure to cold slows down the increased metabolism in such cases and reduces swelling.
Very important: Never put cold packs directly on the skin, otherwise it freezes and that hurts a lot! Always wrap ice packs or gel packs in a dry cotton cloth that is not too thin before use.
Use and Effect of Cold Applications
“Cold applications reduce the activity of inflammatory messengers,” explains Kyrillos, CEO and Founder of “Fitoont”. “In many cases, this relieves the acute pain, especially in the case of sports injuries or pain caused by inflammation.” Ice packs, cold compresses or cold sprays are used in particular. However, the applications should not last longer th1an 20 minutes.
Cold is also effective against painful, inflammatory joint neck pain in some patient if it is in acute stage. However, the treatment should be discussed with the doctor, because brief cold stimuli can also cause reactive heat in the joints. Many are familiar with this phenomenon when making snowballs with their bare hands. For a brief moment it is cold, afterwards your hands often get hot and red. This would increase inflammation.
How to apply it?
Cold compresses should never have direct contact with the skin, the ideal is to use a special gel bag for injuries or use ice wrapped in a towel, since the cold could damage the skin causing burns. It is recommended to apply cold for a maximum of 20 minutes every hour.
When to resort to heat for neck pain?
Heat treatment is used for a contracture, that is, when the muscle is tight, but it is recommended especially in cases of chronic neck pain.
The heat restores mobility to the affected area and helps improve the flexibility and elasticity of the ligaments and tendons. Thanks to the high temperatures, a dilation of the blood vessels is generated, increasing the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients to the damaged tissues.
Bath and Shower with Almost Magical Powers
Another way to “use heat” is to let the hot water from the shower run for 5 minutes on the neck. Keep it straight, without twisting it.
A hot bath will also help relax your neck muscles (and mind) in general. Add Epsom salt (in pharmacies, herbalists…): its magnesium sulfate relieves inflammation and reduces pain.
How to apply it?
Today it is possible to find gel bags -the same ones that are used cold- that can also be heated in a water bath or in the microwave and are ideal for treating pain. Conventional guateros (which use hot water) and those with seeds are also useful for these contractures. It is recommended to apply it between 15 to 20 minutes every hour, as many times as necessary and never in direct contact with the skin.
Remember that these measures, although you can take them at home, do not hesitate to visit to a specialist doctor.
Neck pain: ICD code
In medicine, each disease is assigned a specific ICD code. The abbreviation ICD stands for “International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems”. The classification system is recognized worldwide and is one of the most important for medical diagnoses. For example, diseases of the spine and back are recorded under codes M50-M54. The ICD code: M51 stands for disc damage, which in most cases also leads to neck pain. Entering this code often helps when researching on the Internet.
Neck pain FAQs
What is the best way to sleep with neck pain?
The supine position is one of the gentlest sleeping positions for the neck and can reduce or prevent neck and back pain. Make sure that your pillow adapts well to the spine and is relatively thin in this position so that there is no tension. Lie on your back with your arms at your sides. Stretching your arms above your head can cause tension and pain in the shoulder area.
Which doctor for neck pain?
The first thing to do is to see your family doctor. This may be able to determine the cause of the general pain or neck pain. If the examination by the family doctor does not lead to a result, a specialist should be consulted. The following specialists come into question:
- Orthopedists for causes in the cervical spine
- Osteopath for a holistic examination
- Dentist to diagnose jaw problems
- Neurologist to detect tumors (for constant headaches caused by tension)
- Physiotherapists for shoulder and neck pain
Why neck pain when you have a cold?
Neck pain is a very non-specific symptom of a cold. If they do occur, they are almost always harmless and disappear with the infection within a few days. With a cold, the viral infection and inflammatory process spread to the upper and, to some extent, the lower respiratory tract. Especially in the area of the cervical spine, the close spatial relationship at the level of the spinal cord can lead to overstimulation of the nerves. This is followed by states of tension in the neck muscles.
Which mattress for neck pain?
The mattress should be adapted to your body and your own weight. It is also important that the mattress takes into account the ergonomic needs of the body. This is the only way to ensure that the regeneration phase of the body and muscles works during the night. If you lie badly, if the mattress is too hard or too soft, if the slatted frame sags, this also has a negative effect on the body.
Which ointment for neck pain?
Ointments with arnica can provide quick relief for acute neck pain. The essential oil of the medicinal plant has an anti-inflammatory effect and promotes blood circulation. Ointments that also contain menthol or eucalyptus relax and invigorate the affected muscles. Other well-known pain ointments are, for example, Voltaren pain gel, Thermacare pain gel, Proff pain cream, Finalgon heat cream DUO and, on a plant basis, the Kytta ointment or homeopathically, the Traumel ointment.
If your neck hurts, a scarf will help quickly, pinch it further down, simply wrap a cozy scarf around your shoulders, waist or hips. Admittedly, underwear made from angora wool isn’t exactly sexy – but it heats you up in a different way in the cooler months. Heat packs with hay flowers or fango from the pharmacy also promote blood circulation and often reduce pain. In general, try to keep your neck as warm as possible.
Of course, the most comfortable way to do this is at home: a bath in 39 degree hot water is a treat for the whole body. Bath additives such as lemon balm, lavender, valerian or hops have a calming and pain-relieving effect. After that, it’s best to go to bed immediately. If you have acute neck pain, put a hot water bottle or heating pad on the affected area, it will help. Many people with neck problems also find a visit to the sauna to be pleasant.
But be careful: if you feel that your pain is getting worse from the heat, it is better to stop the treatment. Because you may be tormented by an irritated nerve or an inflamed joint, and then you need it rather cool.
Finally: Should I use ice or heat for neck pain?
I hope that this article was a complete knowledge about our question today (Should I use ice or heat for neck pain?). But I will summarize this article in one line: Hot pack for chronic neck pain and cold pack for acute neck pain
I’m Kyrillos Mina, CEO and founder of Fitoont. I work as a physiotherapist, I created this platform to treat people with all the diseases and symptoms that physical therapy treats. In addition, I will provide tips to lose weight through diet and exercise plans.