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Heat or ice for lower back pain: Which works better?

3 minutes, 44 seconds

Lower back pain is common all over the world and is even the leading cause of global disability. Despite this far-reaching prevalence, the best way to treat lower back pain remains elusive. 

The causes of back pain are plenty. If you experience lower back pain but you haven’t been officially diagnosed with a specific condition, you’ll want to speak with a qualified medical professional. Depending on the cause of your back pain, the best treatments for you may vary. What works for someone else’s pain might not necessarily work for yours. 

If you’re dealing with lower back pain and you’re hoping to learn about the causes of back pain, whether you should try heat or ice for your pain, and which treatment will work for you, you’ve come to the right place. Keep reading to get a clearer understanding of lower back pain and the best treatments for it.

What are some of the causes of lower back pain?

Does heat or ice work better for lower back pain?

  • Heat — Using heat for lower back pain can benefit you if your back pain isn’t caused by an injury, but rather a chronic condition. Whenever the source of your lower back pain is an old injury or a stiff joint, heat is typically better than ice. This is because it can help encourage blood flow to return to the area of pain and because it reduces muscle tension.
  • Ice — Using ice for lower back pain can be effective if you’re dealing with a back injury. It can help reduce swelling and inflammation temporarily reduce pain. If you’re dealing with an injury like muscle strain, a spinal injury, a herniated disc or anything else that will cause inflammation, using ice is better than heat.

What are some other treatment methods for lower back pain if it doesn’t respond to heat and ice?

  • Physical therapy — If you find that your lower back pain isn’t responding to heat or ice therapy, consider trying out physical therapy. Physical therapy is an effective treatment method for a variety of conditions, including many of those that cause lower back pain. A physical therapist can help guide you through a series of carefully planned exercises to address the root of your back pain and improve your symptoms. They’ll work within your pain threshold to reduce inflammation, build strength in your muscles, protect your joints and improve your range of motion. 
  • RICE method — Rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE) are recommended to reduce swelling, improve pain, and boost blood flow to an injured area. Following the RICE method may improve the condition of your lower back pain.
  • Anti-inflammatory medication — Anti-inflammatory medication may help reduce some of the pain as a result of lowered inflammation. Depending on the cause of the lower back pain, this typically isn’t a long-term pain relief solution.
  • Pain-relieving medication — Pain-relieving medication is a temporary form of relief for those with lower back pain who don’t respond positively to ice and heat therapy. While it may allow the pain to subside for a few hours at a time, it isn’t recommended for long-term pain management.
  • Corticosteroid shots — Corticosteroid shots are an option for those who are dealing with pain and inflammation. These injections are meant to help reduce inflammation, which can help alleviate pain in the lower back. They may work temporarily but aren’t guaranteed to be a long-term treatment method. If you find that corticosteroid injections work best for you, you may need to get multiple injections to keep your lower back pain at bay over a longer period.
  • Surgery — Surgery may be recommended if your lower back pain doesn’t respond to heat, ice or any other of the conservative treatment options listed above. Depending on the source of your back pain, surgery may ultimately help reduce your pain and the source of it. However, surgery may not be effective for everyone. It isn’t guaranteed to fix the root of your lower back issue, but it may provide some relief. It’s also worth noting that with surgical procedures comes the risk of complications.

Alliance PTP is ready to help you find top-notch PT for lower back pain 

Have you already tried heat or ice (or both) for your lower back pain, to no avail? Physical therapy can help. At Alliance Physical Therapy Partners, we’re proudly bringing together physical therapy practices across the country to help people get the high-quality PT they need. 

Want to see a physical therapist in person? We can put you in touch with an Alliance PTP partner that’s close to you and that can help you address your lower back pain in heat and ice alone aren’t working. 

Not keen on in-person PT sessions or not close to an Alliance PTP partner? No worries. We also offer effective and affordable virtual physical therapy through our Agile Virtual Physical Therapy platform. 


Come find help for your injury or chronic condition today!