The Rinkit! guide to using a hot water bottle for back pain

The humble hot water bottle is a natural remedy that has been used for generations to help relieve, and sometimes cure aches and pains. It’s been known for decades, if not centuries, that you can use hot water bottle for back pain. However until developments in our understanding of biology and thermal dynamics progressed we haven’t been able to definitively prove it or fully understand why it works. That all changed a few years ago! When you apply heat to the body, it activates the body’s heat receptors. This actually blocks the ability to detect pain as they use the same nerve pathways and the body isn’t great at running multiple types of information along these paths. This acts as a great source of temporary relief! In order to feel the full impact, you need to apply heat of at least 40°C directly to the painful area. A covered hot water bottle is a safe way to do this! Such as the Nicola Spring Striped Knitted Hot Water Bottle - Grey Heart.

A word of warning before we begin: never use a hot water bottle on swollen or inflamed areas. If you are unsure about using your hot water bottle to help relieve symptoms listed below, please seek medical advice first.

Ice and fire – hot water bottles for back pain

The National Health Service (NHS) states on their treatment page for back pain that an effective method of treatment can be alternating between heat and cold, though not for all cases due to specific illnesses or issues. Some people find that heat (such as a hot water bottle or hot bath) placed on the affected area helps to ease the pain when the back pain first starts.

Cold items, such as an ice pack or bag of frozen vegetables, wrapped in a cloth or towel first to avoid a cold burn, can be effective short-term pain relief. Simply place them directly on the painful area for short periods of time and this should help to relieve it.

However it’s recommended to get the best of both worlds here and alternate between hot and cold using hot water bottles and ice packs intermittently! In a study which looked at the efficacy of thermotherapy (heat) and cryotherapy (ice) for pain relief for lower back pain, thermotherapy patients reported significantly less pain compared to cryotherapy. Another study found that continuous low-level heat wrap therapy was more effective than ibuprofen for treating low back pain.

Most cases of back pain are short term, ranging from days to months, but even in long term cases brought on by specific illnesses you can use a hot water bottle for back pain!

But back pain can come from a variety of different sources, muscular, nerve, injury recovery, and joint pain to name just a few.

Muscular pain

As we have sort of already covered this, muscle stiffness without any swelling can be managed effectively with a hot water bottle pressed onto the affected area for 15-20 minutes per hour. Just keep in mind what we said about keeping the bottle covered, take a look at our hot water bottle covers here! You need a barrier between your skin and the hot water bottle or you can actually damage your skin and the surface level nerves! This is probably the second most common use of a hot water bottle for back pain.

Nerve pain

A common ailment that most people will at some point in their lives will come across (unfortunately) are trapped or pinched nerves. Once again the trusty hot water bottle, such as the Nicola Spring Knitted Button Hot Water Bottle - Cream, comes to the rescue! As heat sensitivity is one of the many ways nerves help us function, they are stimulated by heat, which increases their need for blood as they “exercise” their function, thus improving blood supply. This can help mitigate the pain from the trapped nerve whilst you recover, or before you visit a doctor. Remember this particular one is not a cure, it is a pain management technique! If the issue persists please visit a doctor.

Injury recovery

The perfect time to use a hot water bottle for back pain injury is after the swelling has gone down. Before this you can do more harm than good, and should ideally see a doctor. Heat relaxes the muscles in the area that may still be tense, stimulating blood flow and improving flexibility.

Joint pain

Did you know your back has 364 joints? Whilst we know the back is fairly flexible we don’t really think of it as being made of a load of connections! Each of your vertebrae is connected to each other with a joint twice on the anterior and posterior faces, as well as having joints to the individual discs… that’s a lot of joints, more than your arms, legs, hands and feet combined. As such they are just as susceptible to joint pain and ailments as any other. Even arthritis. Nasty. A hot water bottle, such as the Nicola Spring Long Hot Water Bottle with Faux-Fur Cover - 2 Litres - Grey, provides heat, which helps the tendons and ligament improve flexibility, which can help with joint pain and stiffness. A not-so-commonly-known way of using a hot water bottle for back pain!

And there you have it! 5 ways to use a hot water bottle for back pain! Before trying any of these it is best to be sure of why it is hurting, so reread my opening paragraphs and if in doubt, contact your doctor!

Sincerely yours,

Jack Maile