Ice Versus Heat: Which One Is Better For Lower Back Pain?

If you've ever experienced lower back pain, you know that it can put you out of commission for a few hours or even a few days. According to the University Health Services at the University of California, Berkeley, 80% of adults can count on dealing with lower back pain at some point in their lifetime.

Several conditions can bring about low back pain, and the most common of these is arthritis, which causes the bones in your spine to degenerate, per Johns Hopkins University. Another source of lower back pain is herniated discs, which occur when the center of the discs between the bones in your spine tear (via the Cleveland Clinic). That said, certain lifestyle factors can also contribute to it. Smoking, for one, is linked to lower back pain because it causes the bones to become fragile, which increases the risk of fracture. Obesity is yet another risk factor because the more weight that gets put on the body, the more stress it causes the spine. Lastly, a lack of or excessive physical activity can also be instrumental in lower back pain, reports Johns Hopkins University.

The best way to cope with lower back pain

While there's a ton of advice for lower back pain that involves ice and heat, is one more beneficial than the other? Turns out, you need both since they each tend to alleviate the pain in their own way (via Harvard Health Publishing). Applying a cold pack after an injury offers the best benefits immediately after a back injury. This is because the cold will numb the area, easing any pain and reducing any swelling. Ice packs should be applied for about 15 minutes every one to two hours, as per the University Health Services at the University of California, Berkeley.

Once 48 hours have passed, switch to a heating pad (via Harvard Health Publishing). The high temperature relaxes the muscles and it increases the blood flow needed to heal. However, heat is usually only effective for about one week after an injury. Experts at the University Health Services suggest resting and steering clear of any activity that could make the pain worse. While you sleep, also avoid being in a single position for too long. Consult your doctor if you have pain that lasts longer than a week, or if you develop a fever, numbness, tingling, or swelling in the spine or legs.