What Is Better For Neck Pain - Heating Pad or Cold Pack?

When it comes to neck pain you shouldn’t use ice or heat until you’ve taken a minute to answer a few simple questions because if you pick the wrong one it can make the neck pain worse… and nobody wants that!

Ice or Heat?


  • Is this just another flare-up of the same old neck pain you get from time to time?
  • Do you feel any numbness or “pins and needles” anywhere around your neck, arms, or fingers?
  • What were you doing when the neck pain started?

Ice and heat are both mildly effective, but they can both make the neck pain worse if you choose the wrong one for the situation. Truth be told, neither ice or heat can penetrate very deep and the positive benefits of either have more to do with how you feel mentally about them than what they actually do to your body. 


What were you doing when the neck pain started?

One of the most common answers for how somebody’s neck pain, neck stiffness, or “kink in the neck” started is… “I must have slept wrong.” Sound familiar? If you don’t remember exactly what you were doing when your neck pain started then use heat, not ice. Heat will have a better chance at relaxing the muscles around the neck and, most importantly, relaxing your mind and help calm you down a bit. Ice, on the other hand, will probably just make the pain and stiffness worse. 

But… if your neck pain started immediately after you were doing something very physical, like lifting weights or swinging a tennis racket, then you’ll want to use ice for the first day or two. Ice is the best choice when there’s actual tissue damage – like a pulled or strained muscle. Ice will help reduce the amount of inflammation and calm down some of the nerves that send pain signals to the brain. But remember, that inflammation is a natural response to any injury and, in fact, is a necessary part of the body’s healing process, so you shouldn’t try to stop it completely. 


Do you feel any numbness or “pins and needles” in your neck, arm, or fingers?

If you do then you’ll want to use heat and make an appointment to see a doctor that specializes in spine and nervous system problems. Numbness or “pins and needles” means there’s a nerve that’s being irritated. Most likely the nerve irritation is coming from muscles that are too tight or joints that aren’t lined up properly and the nerve that passes by is getting a bit squeezed. It only takes the weight of dime to affect a nerve, so it doesn’t take much. The danger in ignoring the numbness for too long is muscle wasting… if a muscle doesn’t get proper nerve stimulation for even a few weeks it can start to atrophy (get very weak and shrink) which will only cause more problems. 


Is this just another flare-up of the same old neck pain you get from time to time?

In this case you’ll definitely want to use heat and stay away from ice. The ice will help you relax and help relax some of the muscles in your neck. In reality, the heat is not getting deep enough to really affect the muscles and joints responsible for recurring neck pain, but it can help “take the edge off” and make you more comfortable. You’ll also want to start taking better care of your neck and your body to help keep this problem from coming back. Stretching, exercising, changing your position at work, and seeing a doctor (probably a chiropractor) are the best places to start. Frequent neck pain can not just ruin a weekend, but can wreck your overall quality of life.