I have read this question a lot on various health forums, fitness forums, and in general conversation with those who are suffering from a herniated disc. The question that these people are asking is if ice or heat is better to help heal a herniated disc?
The answer to this question is a simple one. It depends on what works better for you. However, I am going to be more biased towards saying that ice is better to help heal up a herniated disc and here are my reasons why.
Why ice is better for herniated discs
When you look at the anatomy of a herniated disc you will see that inside of the disc leaking out and pushing upon one of the spinal nerves or spinal nerve roots. In my injury, I have a herniation at the L5-S1 level and have herniated disc material pinching upon the S1 nerve.
Reason #1 to use ice for herniated discs
The first reason why ice is better for a herniated disc is because it decreases inflammation. Inflammation is one of the main reasons why you have pain with a herniated or bulging disc. In fact, many people live there lives with bulging discs (and sometimes small herniation’s) and don’t even know it! Why? Because there isn’t any pain and inflammation.
Ice helps bring down pain and inflammation. When I use ice for 20 minutes about three to five times a day I notice a immediate reduction in pain.
Reason #2 to use ice for herniated discs
Ice helps contracts a herniated disc and if you look into the anatomy, as said above, you can see how a contracted/smaller herniated disc material would help relieve symptoms. By having the injured disc temporarily contracted you help your pinched nerves be free from being pressed upon for a short-time. The significance of this effect depends majorly on the size of your herniated disc and sometimes where it is located.
After using ice in the injured area for 20-30 minutes (or whenever your ice pack stops getting cold or your ice is melting everywhere) what you wanna do is get heat right onto the area. And not just dry heat like a heating pad but heat with moisture in it. This will help quite a bit in bringing fresh blood to your injured area and this blood will help the healing process quite a bit. Dry heat will simply not sooth the area and will just hit the skin.
Conclusion – Ice or heat for herniated discs?
For the first 24-48 hours after injury you will want ice immediately no question to reduce swelling. And then heat to help increase blood circulation. Overall for pain relief I recommend using ice for the reasons posted above, however, do what works for you. Only you and your body know what is best for it.
Some advocates will say that heat and ice does nothing for your herniated disc. While this may be true in some cases this is not true for everyone. I have personally felt the benefit of using ice to help treat a herniated disc in my lumbar spine. Combining ice and heat therapy will regular physical therapy and medication you can go a long way towards herniated disc recovery.