By Aria Dunham
One of our Twitter followers asked @DrRKevinOBrien:
What is better to use on a sore neck? Hot or cold packs?
Good question! But just like any good question, it raises more questions.
Is this a recent injury?
Or is this a situation where the area was aggravated by exercise, poor sleep?
Is the feeling “pain” or “general stiffness?”
If the neck is sore due to a recent injury, the first measure to take is application of a cold pack. By doing this the inflammation in the area will be reduced by slowing down the flow of circulation, the body’s natural response to injury.
However, if this is a general stiffness issue, it is best to apply a hot pack to the area. The rule of thumb for applying heat is to limit heat exposure to no more than 15-20 minute increments at a time. Some individuals need more time to obtain relief from pain associated with stiffness. In these types of cases, a patient can alternate between hot and cold packs from 15-20 minutes beginning with heat.
The problem with keeping a heating pad on a sore area for longer than 20 minutes at a time is that it actually creates circulation and then increasing pain. Often times a patient will say that they felt heat didn’t relieve their stiffness but actually resulted in pain. The first question I ask at that point is, “How long did you use the heating pad.” Almost always the answer is that they used it for longer than suggested.
Again, if this injury is a recent one caused by a fall, or an auto injury, etc, do what you can to help relieve the pain. However, an assessment of the condition by a professional, is key to ensuring the safety and efficacy of the solution.
Email your question to Dr. R. Kevin O’Brien at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 561-684-9200
To help pass the wait time of using your cold or hot pack, I’d like to share this recent video The Pug Head Tilt by American’s Funniest Home Videos.