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Should I Use Heat or Ice for A Stiff Neck

If you have a stiff neck or neck pain it can make the simplest things very uncomfortable. The good news is that there are some things you can do at home to help alleviate the pain. Two such home treatements are applying heat and applying ice to the area. But which is better? Should you use heat or ice for a stiff neck?

Stiff Neck

A stiff or sore neck can be caused by sleeping in an awkward position, poor posture, or your daily activities. The pain can be due to a pinched nerve, arthritis, tight muscles, or more. Hot and cold therapies are two treatment options for a stiff neck. (We’ll cover them more in detail later.) Other treatment options include anti-inflammatory medication, physical therapy, exercises and stretching, and more.

should i use heat or ice for my stiff neckRead More: Stiff Neck: Causes, Symptoms and Remedies

Heat Therapy for Neck Pain

Applying heat is one method for treated aches and pains. This can be accomplished through ultrasound heat or applying heating pads to the affected area. There are several mechanisms by which heat therapy reduces pain and aids in healing. These include:

  • increasing blood flow to the area
  • increasing oxygen uptake rate
  • reducing joint stiffness
  • reducing inflammation
  • relieving muscle spasms

Using Ice Packs to Treat a Stiff Neck

Ice packs (cold therapy) can also be an effective treatment method for neck pain. Interestingly, applying ice to an area can have some of the same positive impacts on pain, albeit through a different mechanism. Cold therapy works by:

  • reducing blood flow to the area
  • reducing inflammation
  • reducing nerve activity in the area

Should You Use Heat or Ice for a Stiff Neck?

Applying both heat and ice to your neck can help ease pain in the area. But which should you choose?

Ice therapy used for too long can result in damage. If you have diabetes, or another condition that reduces your sensitivity you should avoid using ice therapy. Also, if you have poor circulation, ice therapy should not be used. Individuals with cardiovascular or heart disease should consult with their doctor before using ice therapy.

Heat therapy can be used for longer periods of time but there are still risks to watch out for. Certain conditions may make you more prone to burns or complications from the heat. If you have diabetes, multiple sclerosis, dermatitis or a vascular disease, you should not use heat therapy. Individuals with heart disease or who are pregnant should consult with their doctor before using heat therapy.

In general, cold therapy is usually appropriate when you have acute pain and inflammation in an area. The cold can help reduce the swelling which may be contributing to the pain.

Heat therapy, on the other hand, is often helpful when you have stiff joints. This makes it a good choice for individuals with a stiff neck.

While heat therapy is recommended for a stiff neck, some individuals find benefit from using ice to treat their neck pain. For that reason, a doctor may recommend either treatment. Since each individual responds differently you could try each therapy and decide which you feel is more helpful for your particular condition. If both provide some level of comfort alternating between the two has also been shown to be beneficial.

Have you tried heat or cold therapy? Which do you prefer? Leave a comment on our post on our FaceBook page.



*Please Note: Information on this site or any recommended sites should not be used as a diagnosis or a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.
Blue Distinction Center for Spine Surgery