Ice or Heat for Sciatica? – Which is Better?

heat or ice for sciatica pain relief

Sometimes people will advise you to apply either heat or ice while having some painful sensations on your body. But the choice to use heat or ice therapy to reduce pains depends on the type and cause of such pains.  If you have some painful sensation on your body, it could be from sciatica. In such cases, the right application of heat or ice for sciatica can be beneficial in managing the pains.

In some cases of sciatica treatment, one may have to consider using heat or ice therapy for immediate relief. In either of the therapy, the patient’s age will definitely be a determinant factor. When treating sciatica with heat or ice therapy, it should not be for a long period. This’s because you are at risk of nerve damage when either therapy is prolonged.

In this article, we will examine the use of both heat and ice in treating sciatica. We’ll also help you to understand and decide which of the therapy to use if you have sciatica symptoms.

Ice or heat for sciatica?

There’s a situation when you can apply both heat and ice therapy to relieve sciatica pains. For instance, if you have swelling due to sciatica pain, you should first use ice therapy. This will help and control the swelling effect. Once you achieve that, you can then move to the heat therapy.

Ice therapy for sciatica (Cold Therapy)

You can get relief from the excruciating sciatica pains by placing a cube of ice over the painful area. This is after you’re sure when to use heat or ice for sciatica pains. Ice therapy is simple and easy to perform. The ice will induce the following processes:

Sciatica ice massage Application

If you’re using ice therapy for sciatica pains, you will apply the ice directly to the area. You should massage the skin using the ice in a circular movement. This is mostly for cases where there are swellings due to the sting nature of sciatica pains. The swollen muscles force the blood vessels around them to dilate. This will cause more blood to flow and increases the metabolism of the tissue in the affected area. But with the ice, you can constrict the blood vessels and reduce the sciatic pains they produce.

ice pack for sciatica pain

If the pain is within the pelvic region, you can apply the ice massage for 4 to 6 minutes. Be careful to avoid the bony areas of the pelvic in order not to numb the spine.

For lower back pain, apply the ice massaging specifically on the six-inch pack for faster pain relief. You should also maintain a circular motion during the massaging.

Using an ice massage will give you a cold feeling and, subsequently, a slight tingling effect and numbness. You should stop the ice massaging once you get this feeling. Prolong use of ice massaging can lead to frostbite. You should also know that the excessive use of this ice therapy can result in skin and superficial nerve damage. So wait for the numbness to go off, then repeat the process.

Precautions While Using Ice Massage

In order not to get frostbite, observe the following precautionary measures during ice massage:

  • If you’re directly applying the ice on your skin, always maintain a circular movement while massaging. Keep the motion slow and don’t linger at a particular place.
  • Don’t sleep off with the ice attached to your skin.
  • Keep your massaging period to less than 6 minutes.
  • Avoid the use of ice massaging when you have certain health issues such as arthritis, paralysis, etc.
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Heat therapy for sciatica

Heat therapy can be helpful in relieving and treating sciatica pains. The application of heat therapy is easy and relatively cheap. You can get the heat from hot baths, heat wraps, heating pads, etc.

Here is also a guide for a person contemplating the use of heat or ice for sciatica pains. Heat therapy works very well if the nature of the sciatica pain is by compression. This means that pain comes due to pressure on the sciatic nerves causing blood vessels around the area to constrict.

By applying heat therapy, you can produce the following results:

  • It causes the expansion of the constricted blood vessels. This makes more blood flow to the muscles in the affected areas, bringing more nutrients and oxygen to the muscles. As the muscles come alive, there will be relief from pains.
  • Through the heat application, tissues and muscles around the spine stretch and become more flexible. This reduces the pain in the sciatic nerves.
  • It’ll enhance the joint’s movement and range of rotations.
  • It will bring a reduction in muscle spasms and tension.
  • Also, it’ll influence the sensory receptors to reduce pain transmission signals to the brain. This will produce temporary relief from sciatica pains.

Heat Therapy Application

For a heat therapy application to be effective, the heated product should maintain the right temperature. In most of these therapies, the temperature is normally warm. You should avoid the use of very hot products in applying heat therapy. This could result in skin burns and scars. Also, you must remember that the aim of the therapy is to allow heat to penetrate the aggrieved tissues and nerves.

During the application of heat therapy, you can use the heated object for about 15 – 20 minutes. Try to maintain intervals of breaks within this period to prevent skin burns. If you want to maintain a long-lasting effect, use a low heated wrap. You can wear it under your clothing and keep it around your waist or lower back. In cases when you need a constant temperature, the electric heat pad is the best option. Once you plug it in and set the temperature, the effect could be very rewarding and amazing.

However, to get a general feeling of comfort, you can use a hot bath.

Hot Bath

Types of heat therapy application for sciatica

There are two types; moist heat and dry heat.

Moist heat: You can get moist heat from steamed towels, hot baths, and moist heating packs.

Dry heat: this may remove moisture from your body and dehydrate your skin. Dry heat can come from electric heating pads and saunas.

The choice for any of the two heat therapy types can differ from person to person. To ascertain the right type for yourself, you will need to experiment and pick the one that best suits you.

Precautions Using A Heat Application

You should ensure the following precautions when using heat therapy:

  • Don’t exceed 20 minutes when using the heat application.
  • Ensure to set a warm temperature with each type of heat therapy application to avoid skin burns.
  • Avoid using heat therapy when there is inflammation of the lower back or pelvic regions.
  • Engage insulation between the skin and the heat source to prevent skin burns.
  • You should verify the best heat type (dry or moist) before going into the therapy’s elaborate application.

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