Benefits of Heat Therapy (Thermotherapy)
Muscles themselves operate under the same principle as most other cells in the body. They burn fuel in the form of sugars in order to perform a function. However no other cells in the body take on the physical strain of muscles. This is why musculoskeletal injuries are some of the most common ailments worldwide.
When the musculature of the back is injured, it can put a halt to life as you know it. However, heat is the universal relaxer. Applying heat to sore or tight back muscles allows the muscle fibers as well as soft tissues to relax, relieving pain and soreness significantly. The magic is in the increased circulation as heat dilates blood vessels. This allows the body to help heal itself by providing oxygen and nutrients to the affected area.
Benefits of Cold Therapy (Cryotherapy)
While heat therapy is mostly applied in the case of chronic and ongoing back-pain, cold therapy is usually considered a first aid tool. Cold does the opposite of heat by constricting the vessels of the circulatory system. As a result, swelling is inhibited and pain is numbed due to the sudden drop in temperature which shocks and numbs pain receptors. Acute and recent trauma requires ice as a form of injury management.
There is also research that suggests utility in applying a combination of both types of thermal therapy in an alternating fashion. Going back and forth between heat and cold therapy has been shown to alleviate muscle spasms and pain associated with various musculoskeletal and rheumatic conditions. However clear correlations have not been established as of yet and a high level of subjectivity is involved on a case by case basis. Consult your physician if you would like to explore contrast therapy for your specific condition.