Cold packs are fantastic for many types of neck pain and back pain. They are a natural anti-inflammatory and are cheap and easy to use. What’s not to love?
It can be tricky to know when to use a cold pack and when heat is better.
Generally I recommend cold packs in the first 48 hours after an injury or after treatment.
This is because you are in the acute stage of the healing process. Your body creates inflammation around the injury site, which helps prevent further damage but also causes swelling and pain.
Ice packs reduce this inflammation and therefore reduce our perception of pain.
It is best to use ice packs for fairly brief periods. If they are left on for too long, it is believed they restrict local blood flow which can hamper the healing process.
For this reason I recommend applications of 10 minutes repeated hourly until you feel better.
One major exception is for people suffering with ‘wear and tear’ (osteoarthritis) in their joints.
This can flare up from time to time but in this case it seems in that heat is more effective than cold for reducing pain.
So to summarise, use cold packs in the first 48 hours of an injury or painful episode. They are perfect for many types of back pain, neck pain and shoulder pain.
If your pain persists you should seek advice from your GP, osteopath or another qualified therapist. Do not use cold packs if you have problems with your blood pressure or circulation or if you suffer with diabetes.