How to Apply Ice to Relieve Back Pain

Two Methods:Placing an Ice Pack on Your BackUsing Ice Massage Treatment

Back pain is a very common ailment that affects people of every age. It has a wide variety of causes including pulled or strained muscles, disk issues, arthritis, or simply sitting improperly.[1] Most back pain can get better with a few weeks of home treatment, including using ice to help relieve discomfort.[2] Although there is no definitive scientific evidence that icing resolves back injury, placing an ice pack on your back or giving yourself a massage with ice may help ease your pain and reduce inflammation.[3]

Method 1
Placing an Ice Pack on Your Back

  1. 1
    Prepare an ice pack. If you are experiencing back pain and want to use an ice pack to relieve it, you can either make an ice pack or purchase one. From commercial packs to bags of frozen vegetables, any choice you make can help you alleviate discomfort and reduce inflammation.[4]
    • You can purchase commercial ice packs specifically designed for the back at many pharmacies and medical supply stores.
    • Make a slushy ice pack by pouring three cups (710 ml) of water and one cup (237 ml) of denatured alcohol in a large freezer bag. Wrap it inside another freezer bag to avoid spilling. Place it in the freezer until it is a slushy consistency.
    • You can put small ice cubes or crushed ice in a plastic bag to make an ice pack.
    • You can also use a bag of frozen vegetables, which may nicely fit the contours of your back.
  2. 2
    Wrap the ice pack in a towel or cloth. Before you apply your ice pack, wrap it in a towel or cloth. Not only can this keep you from getting wet and keep the pack in place, but may also protect your skin from becoming numb or getting ice burn or even frostbite.[5]
    • It’s especially important to wrap a commercial blue ice pack in a towel. These are colder than frozen water and can cause frostbite.[6]
  3. 3
    Find a comfortable place for your treatment. You want to be comfortable while you ice your back. Finding a comfortable place where you can lie or sit can help you relax, relieve discomfort, and get the full benefits of icing.
    • It may be easier to lie down while icing your back. However, if you work, this might not be practical. You can place an ice pack on a chair and hold it in place by wedging it between your back and the chair back.
  4. Image titled Apply Ice to Relieve Back Pain Step 3
    Place the ice pack on your back. Once you’re comfortable, place the ice pack on the area of your back that is causing you pain. This may offer you some immediate pain relief and reduce inflammation that is exacerbating your discomfort.[7]
    • Keep the pack on the affected area for no more than 20 minutes per session.[8] Less than 10 minutes may be ineffective but too much time can cause damage, so shoot for 15-20 minutes. Doing it for longer than 20 minutes can damage skin (cryoburn) and underlying tissues.[9]
    • You can use the ice pack after activity or exercise, but don’t use it beforehand. This may prevent your brain from receiving important pain signals to stop.[10]
    • If your pack doesn’t cover the entire area causing you pain, you can do spot ice treatments to get relief.
    • You can also use elastic wrap or shrink wrap to hold the pack in place.[11]
  5. 5
    Combine ice with a pain reliever. Try taking an over-the-counter pain reliever along with your ice treatments. Using this combination may relieve your pain more quickly and also help control inflammation.[12]
    • Take acetaminophen, ibuprofen, aspirin, or naproxen sodium to help relieve your headache.[13]
    • NSAIDs such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium may also help relieve inflammation.[14]
  6. 6
    Continue treatment for a few days. Ice is most effective for back pain in the days immediately following when you first notice pain. Keep applying the ice until you no longer have pain, or see a doctor if it persists.[15]
    • You can ice your back up to five times a day with at least 45 minutes in between treatments.[16]
    • The continued icing keeps your tissue temperatures low and may help reduce inflammation and pain.[17]
  7. 7
    See your doctor. Consult with your doctor if icing doesn’t help after a week or your pain becomes unbearable. She may be able to treat the pain more effectively and quickly, and can also identify any underlying causes that may be causing you discomfort.

Method 2
Using Ice Massage Treatment

  1. Image titled Apply Ice to Relieve Back Pain Step 5
    Fashion or buy an ice massager. Some studies have shown that ice massage may penetrate muscle fiber more quickly and may help you heal more effectively than an ice pack. You can either make or buy an ice massager to help relieve your discomfort.[18]
    • Make your own ice massager by filling a paper or Styrofoam cup about three-quarters full of cool water. Place this cup on a flat surface in your freezer until it is a solid block of ice.[19]
    • Make several ice massagers at one time so that you don’t have to wait for water to freeze each time you want to ice your back.
    • You can also use ice cubes as ice massagers.[20]
    • Some companies are making commercial ice massagers, which you can purchase at some pharmacies and sports stores.[21]
  2. Image titled Apply Ice to Relieve Back Pain Step 6
    Ask a friend or family member to help you. Although you may be able to reach the area of your back causing you pain, it may be easier to have a friend or family member help you. This can help you to relax and get the most benefit from an ice massage.
  3. Image titled Apply Ice to Relieve Back Pain Step 7
    Assume a relaxed position. Either sit or lie in a relaxed and comfortable position while you use ice massage. This can help you more effectively receive the ice treatment and may help relieve your pain faster.
    • If you are at home, it may be easier to lie down to do the ice massage.
    • If you are at work, you may want to sit on the floor of your office space or cubicle, or at the front of your chair if that is comfortable.
  4. Image titled Apply Ice to Relieve Back Pain Step 8
    Expose the ice massager. Peel away part of the frozen cup so that approximately two inches (five cm) of ice showing. This can expose enough ice to massage your sore back while keeping a barrier between your hand so that it doesn’t get cold or frostbite.
    • As the ice melts during your massage, keep peeling away the cup.
  5. 5
    Rub the ice massager over the affected area. Once you’ve exposed the frozen ice in the cup, begin gently massaging it over the area of your back causing you pain. This can help to penetrate deep into your muscle tissue and start to relieve pain quickly.
    • Rub the ice massager in a gentle, circular pattern across your back.[22]
    • Massage the affected region for eight to 10 minutes per session.[23]
    • You can use ice massage up to five times per day.
    • If your skin gets too cold or becomes numb, discontinue your ice massage until your skin warms up.
  6. 6
    Repeat ice massages. Continue to give yourself ice massages for a few days. This can help ensure that the treatments are effective and may help relieve your pain and any inflammation.[24]
    • Ice is most effective when used over the course of a few days.[25]
  7. 7
    Take pain medication to bolster ice massage. Consider taking over-the-counter pain relievers to help bolster the pain relief and anti-inflammatory effects of ice massage. This may help you get relief faster and heal faster as well.
    • You can use any number of pain relievers including aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium.[26]
    • NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen sodium can minimize swelling and inflammation that exacerbates pain.[27]
  8. 8
    Schedule an appointment with your doctor. If your back pain continues following a few days of icing treatments, make an appointment to see your doctor. She may be able to identify underlying conditions or give you stronger treatments to alleviate the pain.


  • Never give Aspirin to children or teenagers under 19 unless directed by a doctor. This has been linked with Reye syndrome, a rare but serious illness.[28]

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Categories: Pain Management and Recovery