Heat or Ice for Neck Pain - Which is Better?

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Dealing with neck pain can be uncomfortable and disrupt daily activities. Luckily, there are at-home therapies that can provide relief, such as heat and ice treatments. Understanding when and how to use heat or ice can make a significant difference in managing neck pain effectively. In this article, we will explore the benefits of heat and ice therapies, guidelines for their application, and when it’s necessary to seek medical attention for neck pain.


Using Ice Packs to Treat a Stiff Neck

If you have experienced trauma or an injury like whiplash, ice therapy can be vital for reducing inflammation and pain. Ice works by constricting blood vessels and limiting blood flow to the injured area, which helps alleviate swelling and numb the affected tissues, acting as a local anesthetic. For acute neck pain caused by recent trauma or intense inflammation, ice therapy is generally recommended.

When applying ice therapy, it’s important never to place ice directly on the skin. Instead, wrap the cold source, whether it’s a gel pack, ice pack, or a bag of frozen vegetables, in a light towel to prevent ice burn. Apply the cold therapy for no more than 20 minutes at a time and wait at least an hour before reapplying.


Heat Therapy for Neck Pain

Heat therapy is beneficial for relaxing muscles, reducing stiffness, and increasing circulation. It is most effective for chronic neck pain that persists over a longer period. If you have been experiencing dull, aching neck pain and stiffness for weeks or months, heat therapy can help by promoting circulation and driving out cellular waste that accumulates in tight muscles.

Moist heat is considered more effective as it penetrates muscles better and provides greater relief. However, dry heat can still increase circulation and assist in the healing process. You can use heating pads, warm towels, or take warm showers to apply heat therapy.


When Not to Use Ice or Heat on an Injury

There are certain situations where the application of heat or ice therapy is not recommended. Within the first 24 to 48 hours following an acute trauma or injury, heat therapy should be avoided. Heat can potentially increase swelling and inflammation during this early stage of healing. It’s also important to avoid heat therapy if there is a loss of feeling in the area, and if you have heart disease or are pregnant, consulting with your doctor before using heat therapy is advisable.



Cold therapy, such as ice treatments, should be avoided if you have diabetes or reduced sensitivity in the affected area. For chronic pain conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or chronically inflamed joints, heat therapy may be more beneficial. Individuals with poor circulation should avoid ice therapy and opt for heat therapy instead. If you have cardiovascular or heart disease, consulting with your doctor before using ice therapy is recommended.


Red Flags – Is it Something More Serious?

While heat and ice therapies can provide relief for many cases of neck pain, there are instances where seeking medical attention is crucial. If your neck pain is severe, lasts for weeks, significantly limits your ability to move your head, radiates into the shoulders, or feels worse in the morning, it’s important to consider seeing a doctor. Additional red flags include fever, weakness, or numbness in the arms, which warrant further evaluation. Underlying conditions such as arthritis, infection, or compressed nerves may be the cause of these symptoms.


Tired of Suffering From Neck Pain?

If you have been struggling with persistent neck pain and are tired of suffering, it may be time to seek professional help. Contact Dr. Ehle at Ascent Chiropractic and schedule an appointment today. Dr. Ehle is a trusted provider in Amarillo who specializes in neck pain management. He can assess your condition, recommend appropriate treatments, and guide you toward a path of recovery.


Request an Appointment today!

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Dr. Robert Ehle

Dr Ehle has 30+ years’ experience in Chiropractic with advanced studies in nutrition, homeopathy, and applied kinesiology (muscle testing). His practice has been in the same location at Interstate 40 and Georgia since 1998. He and his wife Frances moved to Amarillo in 1993 from Houston, Texas. They wanted a smaller more cohesive community to raise their 3 children Eric, Justin, and Lauren.