Bridge to Health Blog
Bridge to Health Blog

Cold, not heat, may be best to manage the symptoms of back pain

Written by Mathieu Rossano   Posted in:Sports Injury   August 13, 2010

One of the most common approaches when faced with back pain is that heat is used for symptom relief. Patients will run a warm bath, fill a hot water-bottle or apply the “deep heat” balm. They then tend to report short-term relief, followed by a relapse, or frequently, a worsening of the pain.

It boils down to this: if for any reason, a joint or joints in your back have become injured and inflamed, the muscles around that joint will tense up, partly as a natural reflex of the body to guard against further stress on these inflamed joints, and to prevent the resulting additional pain. Muscle tension in itself can increase the aching sensation, but may not tell the whole story.

Heat will cause the surrounding muscles to relax, creating an initial sense of wellbeing. However as they do relax, they can also leave the injured joints more exposed to stress, and if there is any inflammation, a hot pack will tend to encourage it, so should not be used persistently.

On balance, a more sensible remedial measure is to apply a cold pack (wrapped in kitchen roll to prevent frostbite) to the area causing pain, as this will tend to have a fairly powerful – if temporary – anti-inflammatory effect. Apply for 10-15 minutes, every hour or two.

Bridge to Health are registered osteopaths in Ealing and Uxbridge. If you have any questions regarding injury pain management, please email us ( or call either clinic – 020 8566 0767 (Ealing) or 01895 20050 (Uxbridge).

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