Cold packs can provide relief to back pain and other muscular injuries, but how should you use yours? And what can you use instead of an ice pack? In this article chiropractor Russell Purchon gives step by step instructions. If you learn how to use ice properly your body can recover more quickly from injury and your discomfort will be reduced.
Heat or ice?
I recommend starting with an ice pack. Ice helps to reduce the inflammation which is contributing to your soreness, and it also has a numbing effect which reduces pain. Repeated applications of ice are best.
Surprisingly, heat and cold work in the same way as the pain sensitive nerves are overridden by the temperature sensitive nerves. This provides some relief and gives a chance for muscle spasm to ease off. I recommend trying ice first as it also helps to reduce inflammation and swelling.
Which ice pack is best?
Ideally your ice pack should be flexible so that it can mould to the shape of your body, like these ones which we sell at the clinic. It is a gel cold pack and I keep one at home in the freezer for if one of the family injures themselves.
If you don’t have such a thing available, a bag of frozen peas can be used until you get a real ice pack.
Take care of your skin.
Ice can burn, and you won’t feel it happening because of the numbness. Avoid freezer burn by putting a tea towel or other thin material between your skin and the ice. If it’s too thick it won’t work either.
This depends on the body part. Deeper structures and muscular areas like the back you should apply for 20 minutes. Shallower structures, for example elbow tendons, 10 – 15 minutes.
Set a timer for your desired time and relax. After a moment it will feel uncomfortably cold but that will soon change to numbness. If you are a busy person you might be tempted to strap it on and get on with things, but it will work better if it stays firmly in place.
Try and do it at least once or twice a day. If you find it helpful and wish to apply more frequently that’s fine as long as you leave an hour between applications for the area to recover.
How will I know it’s working?
Give it a few sessions and if you don’t feel relief, try a heat pack instead. The gentle warmth of a hot water bottle or wheat bag might ease your discomfort.
If you’re in pain it’s tempting to stay rigidly still. This is usually a bad idea – if you keep your muscles moving they will recover more quickly. Exceptions to this include broken bones, or too aggressive exercise which can hinder the recovery of an injured area. Gentle ‘active rest’ is best. If you are uncertain consult your chiropractor.
Avoid further damage.
Try to build a greater awareness of how you move. If you are injured it becomes more important than ever to lift with good form, sleep in a good position and have good seating posture. Click on the links to read my advice on how to do all of those.
How did it happen?
Injuries sometimes feel that they come from nowhere, but they seldom do. Use this time to reflect on the behaviours which may have contributed to your injury – we’ve got resources which will help you get to the bottom of this and hopefully help you avoid further injury. Read my advice on how to avoid injury, 8 common causes of neck pain and 8 ways to avoid back pain.
Regular adjustments help too.
Keeping the body moving freely and the nerves, muscles and joints functioning as well as possible will help to avoid injuries occurring in the first place as well as avoiding under the radar wear and tear on the body. Prevention is better than cure any day!