Low Back Pain: Ice or Heat?

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Should you apply cold or heat to treat lower back pain? Cold packs reduce swelling and inflammation, and help reduce pain. Although most muscle injuries respond well to alternating heat and cold, back pain may respond better to heat1.

The best solution is what works best for you. Try using heat to relax the muscles, then apply cold. If cold does not help, stick with heat, but don’t overdo it.

Heat: Moist heat works best. Use hot packs, baths or showers, or an all-day heat wrap available in pharmacies. Heating pads are dry heat but convenient. Apply heat for 15 – 20 minutes at a time.

Cold: A frozen towel, an ice pack or a homemade slush pack, a bag of frozen vegetables are all options to ice your back. Ice at least 3 times a day. Icing remedies from WebMD.com.

Alternate: Switching between heat and cold works best for many people. Use either for 15 – 20 minutes, wait a few hours and alternate.


  1. French SD, et al. (2006). Superficial heat or cold for low back pain. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (1). http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16641776