Whether it’s overexerting yourself in the garden, overdoing it during weekend sports, or just general aches and pains, we often default to a hot bath to soak away the pain. There’s also a whole industry of products promising relief if added to a hot bath. Do they really work? And does a hot bath help with pain or make things worse?
Are Baths Good for Back Pain?
Yes, a bath can be good for your back pain. The trick is using the right type of bath depending upon what’s causing the pain.
A hot bath can help relax muscle spasms and contracted muscles as well as stimulate blood flow. The bath should be comfortably warm, not scalding. According to the Arthritis Foundation, the temperature should be 92-100 degrees Fahrenheit and never greater than 104 degrees – especially if you have a heart condition. Only soak for about 15-20 minutes and get out of the tub before it starts to turn cold.
Also, for best results, keep your face out of the tub. Drink water before and after the hot bath to stay hydrated.
Are Hot Tubs Good for Back Pain?
Hot tubs can be good for back pain because the ongoing heat and massage jets can ease stiff muscles. Though, it’s important to not stay in too long and drink liquids, so you don’t overheat. Avoid alcohol while in a hot tub because it can contribute to dehydration.
Because a hot tub has a better water ratio than a bathtub, it can also provide pain relief because the water supports your body and takes the pressure off sore, stiff joints.
Can a Hot Bath Make Your Back Worse?
Sometimes, yes, a hot bath or a soak in a hot tub can make you feel worse.
If inflammation is part of the problem, applying heat, whether it’s as a compress or soak in a hot tub, could increase the inflammation. In these cases, it’s better to apply a cold compress or use cold water first to ease the inflammation, wait a bit, and then apply heat.
Also, after a long soak in a hot tub where pressure has been relieved, the return of gravity on your joints can create discomfort. It’s not a common reaction but it can happen.
Can Ice Make Back Pain Worse?
Depending upon the nature of the back pain, yes, ice can make worsen it. If the problem is tight muscles or muscle spasms, ice will cause further constriction and increase pain instead of alleviating it.
Do Ice Baths Work for Back Pain?
You might have heard that Keanu Reeves credits ice baths as one of the ways he’s still able to do his own stunts and fighting in movies like John Wick and The Matrix Resurrections, now that he’s in his 50s. Reeves actually began the practice when he was younger after grueling days filming the fight scenes for The Matrix Revolutions.
Athletes also use the same tactic, and it’s often referred to as cold water immersion (CWI) or cryotherapy.
The idea behind ice baths is that it helps to alleviate inflammation and treat swelling. However, a soak in an ice bath should only last 10-15 minutes at most and in water no colder than 50-59 degrees Fahrenheit. Sustained immersion in very cold water can lead to hypothermia, a very low body temperature. The point of CWI or cryotherapy is to address the inflammation and swelling in muscles and joints without adversely affecting core body temperature.
What Is Better for Back Pain, Cold or Heat?
That entirely depends upon the nature of your injury or the cause of your pain. Heat is better for tight muscles and muscle spasms, and cold is better for swelling and inflammation.
In some cases, both may be required, and you’ve probably seen advice to alternate heat and cold compresses. When that is the case, do not go directly from one to the other. If treating an injury, for example, it’s better to ice it for 10-20 minutes with a cold compress wrapped in a towel, so it doesn’t touch bare skin. Then, rest for 20 minutes and follow that period with heat for 20 minutes.
It may be tempting to take a hot shower immediately after soaking in an ice bath, but you should resist it. This is because the recovery period after applying heat or cold is important. Instead, wrap yourself up in a warm bathrobe and rest for a bit before taking a hot shower, applying a warm compress, or taking a hot bath.
What Can I Put in My Bath to Help My Back?
The main thing people recommend adding to a bathtub for back pain relief is Epsom salt. That’s the primary ingredient in a lot of commercial bath salt.
Epsom salt is actually magnesium sulfate. Healthline explains that when it’s dissolved into a hot bath, the magnesium sulfate is absorbed by the skin and sore muscles.
If the issue is tight or sore muscles, which can happen after overexertion, Healthline also suggests putting a tennis ball or a similarly sized rubber ball into the tub. Position it between your back and the side of the tub you are leaning against, and gently move back and forth. The ball will move, creating a massage-like action that can loosen sore, tight muscles.
Other experts suggest adding sea salt, lavender oil, or chamomile oil to a hot bath to reduce inflammation. You can add them to a hot bath with or without Epsom salt.
Of course, check with your medical professional before trying any of these ideas to ensure you don’t have a condition that would be a contraindication for these treatments.
Talk to Total Chiro About Back Pain Relief
Chiropractic care can be a useful component for overall health. In addition to adjustments, we can provide advice on lifestyle and exercise choices to improve your quality of life and decrease pain. Fill out the contact form on our website or give us a call at (631) 447-2299 for a free consultation or to get started with treatment.