Should I ice or heat my sore back?

A question we are often asked in clinic is “Should I ice or heat my sore back?”. We understand. It can be quite confusing with the two vastly different options and the worry that you don’t want to make things worse.

The short answer is what ever feels better for you and brings you more relief. However, we would recommend trying ice first as it is less likely to irritate the injury. 

But of course there is always a long answer. Ice is best used in an acute injury phase, so the first 2-3 days. Ice is also better when there is a nerve type pain or if you have referral or radiating pain. 

Heat is better when there is muscle spasms that are causing the pain and if there is no referral pain. Which ever you choose to use, only use it for 15 min blocks. When using an ice/heat pack, it is important to not leave it on for longer than 15 min, as the ice will restrict blood flow and the heat will increase blood flow. Which effects the inflammatory process and the inflammatory process is the body’s way of healing. 

Tips for using ice or heat

  • Always wrap you ice pack to prevent burning the skin 
  • Don’t heat your heat pack up for too long, if it is too hot for you to hold in your hands, its too hot to go on your back 
  • Always shake the heat pack to disperse any hot pockets in the bag
  • You can alternate heat packs and ice packs- but still only for 15 min at time and having a 15 min break between.

Think it is time for you to see a chiropractor? Contact us here to make a booking with one of the team.


Malanga, G.A., Yan, N. and Stark, J., 2015. Mechanisms and efficacy of heat and cold therapies for musculoskeletal injury. Postgraduate medicine127(1), pp.57-65.

Mutlu, S. and Yılmaz, E., 2020. The effect of soft tissue injury cold application duration on symptoms, edema, joint mobility, and patient satisfaction: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of emergency nursing46(4), pp.449-459.

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