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How to Apply Ice for Back Pain Relief

Updated on October 10, 2012

Back Pain!

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Often, people ask if they should use heat or cold to treat their back pain. My answer usually, well… maybe. It strongly depends on the type of injury, how long has it been since the injury occurred and how does the individual respond to the sensation of cold. Most minor episodes of back pain can be relieved with cold packs, but if some serious back condition is present, it is best to ask your doctor before attempting any at home therapy.

Common Back Pain Causes

Most everyone has experienced back pain at one time or another. People may think that one small movement has “wrenched” their back when in reality; it takes years to hurt your back until it reaches the point of a strain. Typically, occupational related jobs, poor body mechanics or a pregnancy can alter the structure of the back and make it vulnerable to a strain. Usually back strains occur from:

  • Lifting or pushing a heavy object
  • Lifting and rotating a heavy object at the waist
  • Pregnancy or obesity
  • Bending over instead of crouching down to pick up objects
  • Poor posture that doesn’t support the lower back
  • Falls that result in injuries
  • Motor vehicle fender benders
  • A misstep, usually from a higher height to a lower one

Wrong!

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Right!

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Gravity and Your Mother Want You to keep Your Back Straight

Posture is extremely important to maintain a healthy back. The spine is aligned to ensure that the least amount of gravity acts on it as you stand and walk. Poor posture, or slumping over, will cause the pull of gravity to react to the curves on the spine and cause a deformity. When pulled out of alignment, the spine may react with spasms and respond with pain to the tension of muscle and ligaments on delicate nerves. This is known as structural back pain, and is also due to obesity. The weight of the abdomen pulls on the back muscles and spine, causing a painful displacement of nerves and muscles. Practice good posture when sitting or standing and avoid structural pack pain.

The Medical Community on the Value of Ice Compresses

Most experts agree, ice packs can be applied for back discomfort if the back injury is acute. For an older injury, that comes and goes, the application of heat may be more beneficial. Some people do respond negatively to cold, and the result may cause more spasm and more tension in the sore muscles. You should be the judge and weigh the benefits of ice application as an individual and educated health consumer.

Iced Towel for Back Pain

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An Ice Popsicle for Massage

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Why Use Ice Packs for Pain

Most commercial preparations that are advertised for back or body pain do not work. They only heat up the skin and distract your central nervous system from the pain for a brief period of time. Newer preparations that are absorbed by the skin tend to have some pain relief properties, but ice is definitely affecting the muscles and body tissues. Ice reduces the inflammation response and calms the swelling of tissues and peripheral nerves. The oldest anesthetic ever used, ice can produce a numbing sensation and provide a temporary relief of sore muscles.

How to Apply an Ice Pack to the Back

  • The best way to make a homemade ice pack is to use a towel:
  • Soak the towel in water and wring it out
  • Fold the towel large enough to cover the affected back area
  • Place the folded towel in a plastic bag
  • Put it in the freezer until it is frozen
  • Place a warm towel on the affected back area to slow the “shock” of the ice
  • Place the frozen towel over the warm towel
  • Remove the iced towel after 20 minutes to prevent frostbite to the skin

Try a Popsicle Massage

For some people, a massage provides the best relief as it moves body tissues and helps drain the toxins from the painful site. However, most people in acute pain cannot tolerate the massage action due to discomfort from the pressure on sore muscles. Use an ice pop to massage the area and slowly provide relief with a massage action.

  • Fill a paper or foam cup about 2/3 of the way up with water
  • Balance a Popsicle stick or strong plastic stick in the center and tape in position
  • Place in the freezer until the water is frozen
  • Pull out the frozen Popsicle from the cup
  • Slowly apply the ice to the affected area of the back, and always explain the procedure first to prevent the startle reflex from the ice sensation
  • Perform the massage on the muscles towards the heart
  • Do not apply ice for more than 2-to 30 minutes at a time

Gravity Pulling on Poor Posture

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Simple Rules for Back Pain

If a back injury results in extreme pain or prevents the person from walking or standing, a disc or other structures may be involved. Check the area for bulging, swelling or redness. Any abnormalities should be considered serious and notify your healthcare provider immediately. Take care on your back, and it will take care of you.

When Should You Seek Medical Help

In some cases, a back injury may be a serious matter. Fractured vertebrae in the spine may split with further movement and sever the spinal cord. If you have any doubt a serious injury may have occurred, keep the person still and activate your EMS response.

  • If a person falls from a significant height or a moving object, such as a bike, do not move them and call 911
  • If the person was hit by a motor vehicle, keep them warm and do not allow them to move until help arrives
  • In the case of diving injuries, carefully pull the person from the water and gently pull them on the shore until they are safe from floating away. Keep the body as straight as possible and don’t let them move until help arrives

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    • ib radmasters profile image

      ib radmasters 

      5 years ago from Southern California

      eHealer

      What about back pain that may becoming from your kidneys?

      What are good foods and drinks for taking care of your kidneys?

      My mother in law has been fighting the retained water leg problem and I think all the diuretics and other pills that she takes for her heart etc. tax the kidneys caused her latest back pain.

      She is getting her kidneys sounded out, but the doctors don't really give her specifics to do, just some general to don'ts.

      Any thoughts, she also has osteoporosis.

    • eHealer profile imageAUTHOR

      Deborah 

      5 years ago from Las Vegas

      Crystal, I am so sorry you have chronic back pain. I hope you stay well and thanks for reading my hub. See you soon!

    • Crystal Tatum profile image

      Crystal Tatum 

      5 years ago from Georgia

      A very helpful hub for me, as someone who suffers from chronic back pain! Voted up and useful.

    • eHealer profile imageAUTHOR

      Deborah 

      5 years ago from Las Vegas

      Hello Brett, it depends on the person. Some people rotate ice with heat to increase blood supply, some swear by heat. Everyone is different, thanks for reading my hub and for the support!

    • Brett.Tesol profile image

      Brett Caulton 

      5 years ago from Thailand

      An interesting idea. I hadn't really considered ice, only hot packs when I get back ache. Stretching works wonders too. However, I see the logic.

      Shared, up and useful.

    • eHealer profile imageAUTHOR

      Deborah 

      5 years ago from Las Vegas

      Hi Glimmer, thank you for the support and I hope you feel better. See you soon HubBud!

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Claudia Mitchell 

      5 years ago

      Useful hub, especially since I threw my back out a couple of weeks ago! Of course I have always been told to apply heat. Next time (hopefully never) I'll try ice. Unfortunately I always bend at the hip and can't seem to stop myself!

    • eHealer profile imageAUTHOR

      Deborah 

      5 years ago from Las Vegas

      Thanks Written up. it's so preventable and it's easy to keep a beautifully sleek and straight form.

    • Written Up profile image

      Written Up 

      5 years ago from Oklahoma City, OK

      back safety is so important and home and at work. Lots of good information - thanks for sharing.

    • eHealer profile imageAUTHOR

      Deborah 

      5 years ago from Las Vegas

      Thanks Pamela, back pain is the number one reason for disability! thank you for your support!

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      5 years ago from Sunny Florida

      This is a very useful hub as so many people have back pain. I imagine it is from picking up things incorrectly quote often. Rated up.

    • eHealer profile imageAUTHOR

      Deborah 

      5 years ago from Las Vegas

      Back pain is a common ailment that can be prevented. As part of the "prevention movement" now evident across the world, this hub is dedicated to the awareness of health and education. Thanks!

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