Hot and Cold Therapy: When to Use Each for Neck Pain

Hot and Cold Therapy: When to Use Each for Neck Pain

Ice is advised by experts for inflammation, sudden onset discomfort, and injuries. Heat is the best treatment for injuries that have healed or for persistent discomfort.

You've probably heard of applying a hot or cold compress to relieve neck pain, but when is it appropriate to apply the heat and when to apply the ice?

There is currently no proof that one temperature—cold or hot—is better than the other for relieving pain or tension. Nevertheless, experts usually advise using ice to recently sustained or inflamed wounds. It is recommended to apply heat to reduce any residual stiffness or strain once the edoema has decreased.

This is important to know.

Is ice or heat better for neck pain?

Research suggests that applying ice or heat can help treat neck pain.

Ice is generally advised for:
  • acute neck injuries (like whiplash)
  • soothing muscles after exercise
  • sudden onset pain
  • swelling
Additionally, heat is advised in the following situations:
  • swelling has diminished
  • You have persistent or recurrent neck strain and stiffness.
  • Warming up the muscles before you stretch or work out
For injuries, apply ice or heat for around 20 minutes several times a day, or as often as necessary to feel better.

Do you put heat or ice on first?

According to some studies, applying ice right away (or within 24 hours) after exercising can help with pain management. There is no obvious winner, though, as there are many different methods to cause neck pain; both heat and cold usually work.

You could try switching between them to determine which relieves your neck ache the most effectively.

The underlying theory is that by slowing circulation, lowering swelling, and restricting blood vessels, ice helps relieve the acute pain associated with a new injury.

This is the best way to block out the agony from severe muscle spasms. Ice is probably best if your neck pain or strain has put you on bed rest.

By increasing circulation, heat, on the other hand, relieves tense muscles and chronic stiffness.

This facilitates the delivery of more oxygen and nutrients to the injured area, which may aid in the healing process. Additionally, it facilitates tissue elasticity and helps release tense muscles. Heat is perfect when you're not on bed rest and wish to carry out your daily activities.

Remember that an earlier study found that ibuprofen plus either hot or cold therapy was equally beneficial for patients with acute back or neck pain who visited the ER.

Therefore, it might not matter whether you select heat or ice; instead, go with what seems right for your particular circumstance.

For best effects, you might wish to switch between hot and cold therapy.

When to seek medical attention

Did you know that the fourth most common cause of disability is neck pain? Seeking medical attention is a wise decision if your neck pain is negatively impacting your everyday quality of life.

Moreover, you ought to get immediate medical attention if:
  • You feel weakness, tingling, or numbness in one hand or arm.
  • Your abrupt injury—such as a vehicle accident or sporting event—caused your neck ache.
  • After a week of self-care, your symptoms don't go away
  • When you lie down, the pain gets worse.
  • The discomfort keeps you awake at night.
  • You become unable to regulate urine or bowel motions.
  • You're having trouble balancing or walking.

Other ways of loosening tight neck muscles

Additional techniques for releasing tense or hurting neck muscles include:
  • massage therapy
  • chiropractic care
  • acupuncture
  • gentle stretching
  • exercises for neck pain
  • yoga for neck pain
  • physical therapy
  • maintaining proper posture
  • minimizing stress
  • wearing comfortable footwear
  • painkillers available over-the-counter, such as ibuprofen
  • reducing activities that cause strain in the neck
  • utilising a headset when conducting phone calls
  • taking frequent breaks from sedentary activities, such as driving
  • using relaxation methods
  • making use of a supporting pillow and a firm mattress


Can heat be bad for neck pain?

Applying heating pads or ice packs can aid in the quick relief of neck pain. Heat causes the stiff muscles in the neck to relax, while ice lowers inflammation. You can switch between the two multiple times a day for roughly 20 minutes each, for optimal effects.

How do you take hot and cold therapy?

A hot water bottle, microwave-heated pads, or a warm bath can all be used as basic heat therapy, also known as thermotherapy. A pad that has been chilled in the freezer, cool water, or a water bottle filled with cold water can all be used for cold therapy, also known as cryotherapy.

When not to use hot therapy?

It is not advised to use heat therapy right after following physical exertion, an injury, or an infection.


Depending on your particular circumstances, hot or cold therapy may be appropriate for neck pain.

Since ice reduces swelling, experts typically advise using it for recent injuries or abrupt onset discomfort. Heat promotes circulation, making it the perfect treatment for persistent muscle stiffness or tightness.

See a doctor if, after a week of self-care, your neck pain doesn't get better.

Seek emergency attention if you have lost control over your bowel movements or urination, if you have numbness in one arm or hand combined with neck pain, or if you are having trouble walking or balancing.

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