Lower Back: Icing Takes the Pain Away - or Makes it Stay?
Low time investment4
Place bagged ice or a cold gel pack on the lower back for pain. Typically, have a layer of clothing, paper towel, or towel in between to prevent burn. An ice cube can also be rubbed on bare skin in a circular motion, for up to 1-3 minutes.
- Potential relief: 3 - When it's the right choice, like with new injuries, ice can often relieve roughly half of symptoms. Repeated use is often recommended to continue getting benefit - e.g. at least twice a day for several days.
- Universality: 3 – The major problem with is that most common lower back pains are caused by painfully contracted knots of muscle, not actual fresh injury. Since ice can increase muscle contraction, it can increase the pain by tight muscles. (While not the same, think of how your muscles seize up when you jump in a freezing pool!) Painscience.com makes a compelling research-based argument for why the lower back is an area least likely to respond well to ice. With that said, if ice feels good and helps you – do it! Ice may be good for a new muscle pull, like if you lifted something too heavy. Otherwise, heat may be better to relax upset muscles.
- Ease: 5 – Put it on and don’t burn yourself. The hardest part is having ice or a gel pack when you need it! There are some one-time use packs available that you carry at room temperature, and then squeeze to create an internal reaction that turns it cold. (Here are Amazon’s bestselling instant cold packs that are big enough for the lower back.)
- Low cost: 5 – Ice is basically free! Make your own ice packs with instructions online (e.g. mix rubbing alcohol and water 1:2). Otherwise, get a reusable cold pack for <$10, or instant cold packs in bulk for $1 each.
- Low time investment: 4 – Ice/gel packs begin to numb within 1-3 minutes, and can be applied up to 20 minutes. Direct ice cubes (applied in constant circular motion) work in 1-3 minutes before they should be removed.
- Comfort: 5 – If it burns, then it’s too cold. Typically, you’ll want a thin layer between the ice pack and your skin, like your shirt or a paper towel or two. Some very cold ice packs require a towel between the pack and skin.