Ice or Heat for Lower Back Pain?

Low back pain is an extremely common condition and one of the most common reasons a person seeks out medical care. Fortunately, back pain typically gets better on its own with little or no medical intervention. Studies have shown that 9 out of 10 people with back pain will get better within 1 month. However, there are some things a person can do to help the recovery of back pain along.

There are several causes of low back pain with the most common being muscle strain and arthritis. While bed rest can help in the short term, it actually can make matters worse if bed rest goes on for more than a couple of days. Instead, it is recommended to try to resume work and normal activities as soon as possible. Stretching, massage, and physical therapy can also help.

A question I get asked quite often is, “Will using ice or heat help my back pain?”

The simple answer to this question is both can help. I recommend using ice when the injury is new to help keep down the inflammation. After a couple of days, either ice or heat can help by soothing muscle spasm and pain in their own way. Ice works by reducing inflammation, while heat helps relieve muscle spasm. A common technique is to use heat before an activity and ice afterwards.

Written by Dr. Michael Musacchio, Jr.

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