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Hot vs Cold Therapies for Low Back Pain

In this self-care tip we are going to explore hot vs cold therapies for low back pain.

Hot and cold therapies are inexpensive and mildly effective self-care options. In my clinical practice patients often ask when to use heat or when to use ice on a painful condition? Cold is usually for acute pain from an injury. Applying ice can help calm damaged tissue that shows signs of being inflamed, red, hot and swollen. Heat is more for long term chronic pain affecting muscles. Heat can help soothe and relax localized spasms or tight, knotted muscle tissue. I always use heat in the clinic because the painful conditions I treat tend to be more chronic. Heat opens circulation and allows the body’s natural healing abilities to be more penetrating to the affected tissue.

Traditional Chinese Medicine seeks balance between two natural and opposing forces of nature called yin and yang for maintaining health. Think of yin as cold and contracting like knotted muscles. Think of yang as warm and expanding like swelling from an injury. Tight, knotted pain requires warmth to expand and open up circulation were as an expanding and swollen injury requires ice to contract and decrease the swelling. These are self-care practices in natural medicine. Now if you try to apply ice to cold, knotted muscles, this is yin treating yin – it may feel worse. And the same holds true if you try to apply heat to a hot and swollen injury, this is yang treating yang – it’s not going to feel good and could worsen the condition.

We’re looking for balance – heat (yang) therapy balances a cold (yin) or knotted conditions and cold (yin) therapy balances hot (yang) and swollen conditions. There are conditions that may require an alternating between hot and cold therapy. You may find this confusing. Try it out yourself to see which feels better.

Here’s the bottom line – go by how it feels. If it feels good then it’s good and you know it’s helping.

If your chronic low back pain needs a stronger therapy consider acupuncture. Low back pain is a very common condition that I treat in the clinic with acupuncture. Call my clinic and schedule a free consult to see if acupuncture is right for you and your low back pain.

 

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