Heat or Ice? Which is Best for Back Pain
Most medical experts agree that heat is superior to ice when it comes to easing back pain especially pain in the lower back.
However, ice can be used in some instances, and some people do find cold to be soothing when their back hurts.
Cold is good to reduce swelling and inflammation, either from a surgical wound, an injury or osteoarthritis.
To Use Heat:
Apply moist heat to the back in 15 to 20 minute sessions. Moist heat is more effective than dry heat and can be had through hot packs, showers or hot baths. Some drugstores sell heat wraps that can be worn all day.
An electric heating pad should never be set on high. Low or medium settings are preferred. The patient should avoid falling asleep when they’re wearing an electric heating pad and should set an alarm clock or timer to go off after about 20 minutes.
To Use Cold:
There are several ways to apply cold to the back:
– A commercial cold pack can be used.
– The patient can create their own ice pack by filling a plastic bag with about a pound of ice and adding water to just cover the ice. Air should be squeezed of the bag and the bag shut, wrapped in a wet towel and placed on the back.
– A bag of frozen peas can be placed on the back.
– Soak a towel in cold water, wring it out, place it in a plastic bag, and put it in the freezer for about a quarter of an hour. Remove it from the bag and put on the back.
– Mix three cups of water and one cup of denatured alcohol in freezer bag, seal the bag, and put it in the freezer until the contents are slushy. The bag can be refrozen when the slush melts.
The back should be iced three times a day for a period of three days. For the first day, the ice should be applied for 10 minutes once an hour. Then, the ice can be applied 10 minutes every two to three hours, then in 10 to 15 minute sessions three times a day.
Athletes should also be careful to ice after a work-out or a strenuous game.