There is some evidence that heat will help decrease low back pain.
There is little proof that cold will help.1 But some
people do find that heat or cold help them. Follow these suggestions if you
would like to try heat or cold for low back pain.
Heat to relieve low back pain
Apply heat for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Moist
heat (hot packs, baths, showers) works better than dry heat.
all-day heat wrap, available in pharmacies.
If you are using an electric heating pad, avoid
falling asleep while the pad is on. If you think you might fall asleep, set an
alarm clock to go off in 20 minutes. Use heating pads set on low or medium,
never on high.
Ice to relieve low back pain
Ice and cold packs can relieve pain, swelling, and
inflammation from injuries and other conditions such
arthritis. Use either a commercial cold pack
An ice towel. Wet a towel with cold water, and
squeeze it until it is just damp. Fold the towel, place it in a plastic bag,
and freeze it for 15 minutes. Remove the towel from the bag, and place it on the
An ice pack. Put about
1 lb (0.45 kg) of ice in a
plastic bag. Add water to barely cover the ice. Squeeze the air out of the bag
and seal it. Wrap the bag in a wet towel and apply it to the affected
A homemade slush pack. Mix
3 cup (709.78 mL) water and
1 cup (236.59 mL) denatured
alcohol in a freezer bag. Seal the bag, and place it in freezer until slush
forms. Refreeze the bag when the slush melts.
A bag of frozen
An ice cup. Fill a paper cup two-thirds full with water, and freeze
it until it is solid ice. Before use, peel back enough paper to expose some of
the ice. Rub the ice over the affected area for 3 to 5 minutes.
Ice the area at least 3 times a day. For the first 72 hours (3 days),
ice for 10 minutes once an hour the first day, then every 2 to 3 hours. After
that, a good pattern is to ice for 10 to 15 minutes 3 times a day: in the
morning, in the late afternoon after work or school, and about a half hour before
bedtime. Also ice after any prolonged activity or vigorous exercise.
Always keep a damp cloth between your skin and the cold pack, and
press firmly against all the curves of the affected area. Do not apply ice for
longer than 15 to 20 minutes at a time. And do not fall asleep with the ice on
You may also want to try switching between heat and cold. Use
heat for 15 to 20 minutes, then a few hours later use ice for 10 to 15
French SD, et al. (2006). Superficial heat or cold for
low back pain. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.