A heating pad can help relieve both neck and lower back pain. Back pain accounts for 264 million work days lost every year in America. That means that if you're in pain right now, you're in good company. If you've been suffering from back pain it can feel like you've tried everything to make it go away. Read on to learn how to use a heating pad for neck and lower back pain relief.
You've spent hundreds of dollars at the chiropractor, hours in doctor's waiting rooms, and missed out on important family events because of your pain. You may have overlooked one simple remedy - heat. With a heating pad, you can ease away your muscle strain. I love my electric heating pad for getting relief from my lower back pain and the occasional neck pain I get from poor posture. I also use it to help essential oil applications work better and faster.
Causes of Back Pain
Your back is made up of an integrated network of muscles, bones, ligaments, joints, and fatty tissue. That means that there is a multitude of ways to hurt your back. If you move the wrong way, you can sprain your ligaments, rupture discs, strain your muscles, and irritate your joints.
Once an injury occurs, it's easy to aggravate the condition with obesity, poor posture, arthritis, and psychological stress.
Does a Heating Pad Help?
For me, I have to say yes. I use an electric heating pad every single day because I’m in pain every single day. Thermotherapy is the technical term for applying heat to an injury. It's the exact opposite of cryotherapy where ice is used.
Thermotherapy works because it targets your muscles which are a huge source of your pain. Even if you have a herniated disc, a lot of your pain can come from your muscles straining to support it rather than the nerve pain itself. Muscle pain is easy to create. Just a little over-exertion at the gym or pushing yourself a bit too hard at work or with your day to day chores and all of a sudden you’re experiencing cramping and spasms.
Companies have spent billions of dollars developing products like Icy Hot that are supposed to have the same effect as a heating pad. But those products aren't a miracle cure. A heating pad is an inexpensive way to relieve your pain. I keep one around in the same way most people keep Band-Aids. I rely on it for quick comfort and pain relief.
Heat Makes You Feel Good
Our bodies look for signals from our surroundings to react. One of the most basic instincts that humans have is for safety and survival. Back in the caveman days, hypothermia would kill people all of the time. As evolution went on, our bodies evolved to find heat comforting.
Don't believe me? Think about the relaxed feeling you get when you first enter a hot tub, take a warm blanket out of the dryer, or how nice it feels to enter a warm building on a snowy day.
Heating Pad vs. Ice Pack
Using heat and ice to treat an injury should be a straight-forward process, but you need to know which to use and when. As a general rule, ice is for injuries that have just occurred, while heat is better from chronic pain, stress, and muscle spasms.
If you have any swelling or redness then you should apply ice to it. Alternatively, if you've been working out at the gym all week and really starting to feel it, heat would be your best option.
About Trigger Points
If you have ever heard someone say that they have a knot in their muscle, what they really mean is that they have a trigger point. A trigger point is a small patch of soft tissue that is irritated. The pain can radiate from this area and lead to more pain elsewhere making them a concern.
Heat may be able to relieve these trigger points if they are close to the surface. It also helps that trigger points get aggravated from stress. The relaxation from the heating pad can make a huge difference.
How Long to Use a Heating Pad
The more your back hurts, the longer it will take for a heating pad to relieve your pain. Unlike ice, where you should apply a compress for twenty minutes before taking a twenty-minute break, you will need a longer session.
For serious injuries, you may want to use your electric heating pad for as long as two hours. Never set it too hot that it feels uncomfortable and never leave it unattended (also, never sleep with one on). After that time, consider stretching.
How Much Heat to Use
Heat therapy is great, but there is the danger of burning your skin with too high of heat. For most pain, you should use a warm temperature heating pad or water bottle. That will allow the heat to slowly penetrate into your muscles without causing a problem for your skin.
Other Ways to Apply Heat Therapy
While using a heating pad is a great way to create a constant stream of heat, you're not always in a position to use one if you're on the go. You also wouldn't want to plug one in overnight.
For those times, you have other options for your heat therapy. Consider buying a hot water bottle or heated gel pack for relief. A hot bath can also be nice. I use portable heat packets called Hot Hands, they come in a variety of sizes. They’re meant for hunters and for keeping warm outdoors, but they provide even heat for up to 12 hours, without cords or batteries. I keep them in place using an Ace Bandage or a strip of first aid adhesive.
When a Heating Pad is Bad
Heating pads aren't the answer to all that ails you. If your back is swollen or bruised, then you would benefit from ice more. Ice is what will bring the swelling down. Heat relaxes away your pain.
People who have heart disease or hypertension should use care when using heating pads and speak to their doctor about what's best for them.
Finally, you shouldn't apply heat to any open wounds or dermatitis (rash on the skin).
Pain is the signal from your body that something is wrong. If you're in constant pain, it can feel like nothing else matters, finding relief is all-consuming. Knowing the best ways to use a heating pad gives you another tool in your pain relief arsenal.