Category ArchiveNeck Pain
Neck Pain 18 May 2009 04:07 pm
Neck pain can be caused by anything from sleeping at a bad angle, a sudden movement, a sports injury or the ever-popular wife-parks-a-truck-on-top-of-your-Ferrari type automobile accident.
And, as luck would have it, the only real cure for strained neck muscles is rest. You just have to give them time to heal.
However, there are several options available to help you minimize the pain while your body is going about the healing process. (And some of them actually work.)
Why Not Try Ice?
It may not be very glamorous, but one of the best pain relief treatments available is just plain old ice.
Ice reduces pain by reducing inflammation and swelling, numbing the injured area and slowing nerve impulses that carry pain signals to the brain. What’s more, many doctors and physical therapists believe that applying ice to soft tissue injuries assists with the healing process.
How Ice Works
Most neck pain is the result of minor soft tissue injuries such as strained or sprained ligaments. And like any sprain, this can lead to inflammation, muscle spasm and stiffness as the body tries to protect the injured area.
Ice helps reduce the inflammation, which in turn greatly reduces the pain.
Another way ice assists with the healing process is by reducing the swelling, which can help decrease tissue damage.
Ice also acts like a local anesthetic by numbing the area and slowing the nerve impulses that carry pain signals to the brain. These nerve impulses are what cause the muscles to spasm.
Another Way Ice Helps
As you might expect, when applying ice to an injured area the cold causes the veins and capillaries to contract. This temporary contraction of the blood vessels reduces circulation — which helps to reduce the swelling — but also produces a beneficial side effect.
When you remove the ice, the veins and capillaries will respond by dilating and this in turn brings a rush of new blood directly to the injured tissues. This fresh blood caries nutrients that are vital to the healing process.
So you see, ice therapy actually works on several levels.
General Guidelines for Ice Therapy
Ice usually works best if it is applied during the first two days following an injury. After that, heat is usually more effective.
If you wish to try this technique, be sure not to place the ice directly against your skin. Instead, wrap it in a towel or use an ice pack so that you don’t burn the underlying tissue. (I like using a plastic bag half full of ice water so that it can be molded around the injured area.)
You should only keep the ice on for about 5 minutes at a time.
The treatment can be repeated two or three times a day.
(Please note: Ice should not be used if you have rheumatoid arthritis, Raynaud’s Syndrome, or you are suffering from paralysis or other form of impaired sensation.)
While muscle strains and pulled ligaments are not very serious injuries, they can be extremely painful. Fortunately, ice therapy is a quick and easy way to obtain significant pain relief without breaking the bank.
So the next time life hands you an unexpected surprise, just remember that good old-fashioned ice is still one of the most effective forms of neck pain relief available.
Neck Pain 18 May 2009 04:00 pm
Compared to most therapies heat is pretty hard to beat. It’s very inexpensive, it’s easy to do, it doesn’t require an appointment and it carries no side affects. You can do it while relaxing at home and there are even portable heat wraps you can use in the car or at work.
Physical therapists will often combine heat therapy with other treatment modalities, such as ice therapy, electro therapy, stretching and exercise. Heat therapy is highly effective for anyone looking for a non-pharmaceutical form of back pain relief.
Choosing the Right Product for You
Appling heat therapy starts with getting the right heat source. You want something that can hold a constant temperature for an extended period of time. Nothing is worse than having your hot pad go cold half way through the session.
An adjustable thermostat is also handy for setting just the right temperature and taking the guesswork out of the process.
Your hot pad just needs to feel warm. It isn’t necessary to have the thing so hot that you risk burning your skin.
Secondly, you need heat that will penetrate deeply into the muscles. Heat sources – such as creams and sprays – that just warm up the skin will do little to relieve that back or neck pain.
Which is Best, Moist Heat Or Dry Heat?
Dry heat such as you get from electric heating pads is far easier to apply to the lower back and neck than say a sloppy wet towel for the simple fact that you don’t have to worry about getting your clothes wet. Plus, electric heating pads are adjustable and will remain at a constant temperature for as long as they’re plugged in.,/p>
Towels lose heat rapidly and have to be constantly changed.
Moist heat tends to penetrate better because the water molds to the body and thus, provides better heat transfer. This leads some people to conclude that moist heat provides more pain relief than dry, but this is really a matter of perception rather than fact. If you have access to a hot tub or whirlpool bath then moist heat becomes a little more convenient plus the additional massage feature is a nice bonus.
Actually deciding between moist heat verses dry heat doesn’t really matter. Both are equally effective. What it really comes down to is a matter of personal preference and practicality.
Heat Therapy Options
You have a number of options for applying heat therapy to your aching back or neck some of which we’ve already discussed.
There is the old-fashioned hot water bottle, which will stay warm for up to 30 minutes but it isn’t adjustable, doesn’t maintain a constant temperature and has to be refilled if you need it to go longer.
Then there’s my favorite – the electric heating pad – which comes with an adjustable thermostat, maintains a constant temperature and can be applied anywhere, anytime with no muss and no fuss.
Next are the moist heat options such as the hot tub, sauna, steam baths or even a good old hot bath… all very effective and definitely enjoyable… but not as convenient as the above options in my opinion.
Finally, you have the newer high tech toys like heat wraps and gel packs that you can heat in the microwave or in hot water. These are fine products and definitely do the job, but they can be expensive and don’t really match the electric heating pad for convenience. (Can you tell I’ve already made my choice?)
How Long To Apply Heat
If you’re like me, the longer you can spend relaxing the better. But sometimes that just isn’t possible.
Generally speaking, for minor back pain 15 to 20 minutes should be sufficient. For more severe pain – or in really stubborn cases – you may need to spend anywhere from 30 minutes to as long as 2 hours for the treatment to be effective.
How long you apply the heat will depend on the severity of the pain and how long it takes for you to experience relief. In other words, you’re going to have to experiment a little to find what works best for you.
Heat Therapy Precautions
Before we wrap up this discussion on using heat for back pain relief, there are some things you should keep in mind. Namely, that heat is not always appropriate for all situations.
For example, you should not apply heat to a new injury that might be swollen or bruised. The heat will simply cause additional swelling and ice would be a better solution. The accepted rule is to use ice for the first two days following an injury, after which you can then apply heat safely.
In addition, heat should not be used if you have the following conditions: Heart disease, high blood pressure, peripheral vascular disease, deep vein thrombosis, diabetes or dermatitis.
And, as with any form of treatment, always check with your doctor before attempting to handle the matter yourself. Chances are, he’ll give you the go ahead, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Right?
Heat May Just Be Neck Pain’s Nemesis
So, if you’re after a simple, easy to apply, natural form of back or neck pain relief, don’t overlook the benefits of heat therapy. Unlike the pharmaceutical options, heat therapy doesn’t just mask the pain. It actually works with your body to promote the healing process.
Till next time,
1. Press Release: Heat Halts Pain Inside The Body, University College London, July 5, 2006
Neck Pain 18 May 2009 03:40 pm
We’ve all known since the beginning of time that the application of heat appears to sooth away aches and pains, but up until now that so-called “knowledge” has been strictly anecdotal. We could demonstrate it and experience it for ourselves, but there was no real proof that the phenomenon was anything more than just the result of the placebo effect.
That is until I came across a press release this summer from London’s University College stating that researchers there have discovered scientific proof that heat alleviates pain.
Dr Brian King, of the UCL Department of Physiology, led the research that found the molecular basis for the long-standing theory that heat, such as that from a hot-water bottle applied to the skin, provides relief from internal pains, such as stomach aches, for up to an hour. 
Dr. King goes on to explain:
“The heat doesn’t just provide comfort and have a placebo effect – it actually deactivates the pain at a molecular level in much the same way as pharmaceutical painkillers work. We have discovered how this molecular process works.”
If heat over 40 degrees Celsius (104F) is applied to the skin near to where internal pain is felt, it switches on heat receptors located at the site of injury. These heat receptors in turn block the effect of chemical messengers that cause pain to be detected by the body. 
In the past it was easy to speculate that heat therapy seemed to work simply because it made us feel good and thus made the pain more bearable.
Add to the fact that the pain relief was only temporary, furthered the assumption that the effect was merely psychological and not really real. However, Dr. King’s research gives us physiological evidence that supports our past personal observations.
The team found that the heat receptor, known as TRPV1, can block P2X3 pain receptors. These pain receptors are activated by ATP, the body’s source of energy, when it is released from damaged and dying cells. By blocking the pain receptors, TRPV1 is able to stop the pain being sensed by the body.
Scientists made this discovery using recombinant DNA technology to make both heat and pain receptor proteins in the same host cell and watching the molecular interactions between the TRPV1 protein and the P2X3 protein, switched on by capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili, and ATP, respectively. 
And so we see that even the temporary aspect can be demonstrated at the molecular level.
What does this all mean for the future of pain research? Dr. King goes on to give his opinion on the matter…
“The problem with heat is that it can only provide temporary relief. The focus of future research will continue to be the discovery and development of pain relief drugs that will block P2X3 pain receptors. Our research adds to a body of work showing that P2X3 receptors are key to the development of drugs that will alleviate debilitating internal pain.” 
Not Just Anecdotal Any More
This, of course, means the physical therapists have been correct all along in their use of modalities such as heat and ice when treating back and neck pain. It also confirms what you and I have observed time and time again, that the relief only lasts a short while.
For those of us who prefer not to use pharmaceuticals if they can be avoided — and don’t mind settling for a temporary solution — this is interesting research and a chance to finally point to something other than anecdotal evidence.
So, if you don’t want to take a pill and all you’re looking for is something to help you get to sleep at night. Try applying a hot water bottle or one of those commercial heat packs just before bed.
It may just do the trick.
Till next time,
1. Press Release: Heat Halts Pain Inside The Body, University College London, July 5, 2006
2. BBC News: Heat ‘blocks body’s pain signals’