If your back is hurting, you may find yourself getting conflicting advice when it comes to treatment.  Some people will say you should use heat, while others will insist that ice is the better option.

The reality is that both are effective treatments, but there are times when one offers superior benefits than the other. So how do you know?  In this piece, we’ll offer some good general guidelines you can use next time back pain slows you down.

Immediately After You Hurt Your Back

In the first 72 hours after you suffer a back injury, ice is your best friend because cold therapy helps to reduce swelling. This will reduce the amount of pain you’re in and for how long.

Having said that, there are a few tips to keep in mind where ice is concerned:

  • Don’t overdo it. If you’re going to use ice, be sure to apply it for no more than 15-20 minutes at a stretch, then give your body an hour or so without it.  Using ice for longer periods can actually work against you.
  • Be sure you’re not applying the ice directly to your skin. Use a towel, shirt, or some barrier between your skin and the ice so you don’t suffer from “ice burn,” which can be as painful as your back pain!

In The Long Term

Once you pass the 72-hour mark, your best bet will be to alternate between heat and ice treatments.  Here, the same basic principle applies.  Whichever you’re using (ice or heat) be sure not to apply it for more than 15-20 minutes at a time, and give your body about an hour break between treatments. Your treatment plan would look something like this:

  • Ice (15-20 mins)
  • Break for one hour
  • Heat (15-20 mins)
  • Another Break
  • Then back to ice

Do that, and you’ll minimize your pain, and the amount of time you suffer from it.