Ice Massage For Back Pain

When looking for pain relief ice massage, also known as cryotherapy, can be a safe, natural alternative to harmful drugs.

Years ago the recommended treatment following an injury was to apply heat. Heat is always soothing during and for a brief time after its application. That is why it was thought to be a good early treatment choice.

In addition, it was believed that because it relaxed the muscles
and increased circulation to the injured area this would promote healing.

Yes, it is soothing and seems to ease the pain. Yes, it does relax the
muscles and permit freer movement. And, yes, it does improve circulation, encouraging the exchange of nutrients and the removal of waste products that occur as a result of healing.

Heat Can Be Harmful

The danger in using heat is that in the acute stage (first 72 hours) these effects are short term and limited. What it will do in the early process of healing is make the nerves more sensitive and create a greater level of pain. This can be seen when you add heat to a burn. The application of heat will make the burn tissue even more painful.

Now, since pain will cause spasm, another reaction from the application of heat and subsequent increase in pain, will be greater or more intense spasm. Which causes more pain and so the cycle becomes self-perpetuating.

Heat will also cause more swelling due to the engorgement of blood needed to return the healing tissue to a normal body temperature.

The blood must circulate freely to remove the heat just as water in your car radiator must circulate to avoid overheating. If the water circulating in your car is interfered with then you will blow a hose or radiator cap and the radiator fluid will escape.

The same thing happens at an injured site. The tissue is already leaking blood from the tear. When heat is applied you increase more blood to the area. This causes more escape of blood and more inflammation.

You have now caused more extensive damage and resulting inflammation.

Ice Is Nice

Ice for back pain will have the appropriately needed effect, if used properly. If not used in a proper manner ice can have the same effect as if you were applying heat.

Ice will suppress pain. What does ice due to a burn? It reduces the
pain. Ice will restrict blood flow and prevent excessive bleeding. The
result of ice application is a reduction of inflammation, less pain, less
bleeding and less spasm.

“But,' you may ask, 'I thought you said inflammation was good?"

Yes, controlled inflammation is good. Controlling the injured tissue bleeding is good.

After 72 hours, when the acute stage has passed, if what remains
is mild pain, minimal spasm, little or no swelling then ice can probably be discontinued and the application of heat can be tried.

One important caveat. If after using heat there seems to be increasing symptoms such as more pain, swelling and/or spasm then immediately discontinue using heat and return to ice application.

When in doubt... use ice.

Different Ways To Apply Ice

There are many forms of cold or ice that you can use. You can purchase ice packs in the form of gel packs. These are simple and easy to use. They do not remain cold for very long and at times do not stay cold long enough to permit the desired effect.

Another thing you can use is a plastic baggy or a Ziploc type bag or
evening a rubber type hot or cold bag that you can purchase at the
drugstore. You can fill these bags with crushed ice in a little cold

A very simple method to use is a frozen bag of peas or corn. This is
very effective as the peas and corn act as tiny ice crystals. It can be
easily applied to any body part regardless of its size, shape or contour.

Lastly, you can use an ice cube and perform an ice massage. This method will be discussed later on this page.

How To Perform Ice Treatment

  1. Applying the ice bag to the injured area using a paper towel or two between the skin and ice.
  2. Leave in place for 20 minutes. Do not exceed 20 minutes. After about 12 to 15 minutes check the site by removing the bag. If the skin feels numb to the touch or shows signs of blanching discontinue using the ice. If no numbness is noticed return the ice bag to the area and check again in another 2 minutes and then 2 minutes more for numbness or blanching.
  3. Discontinue using the ice after 20 minutes or whenever you notice numbness or skin blanching whichever occurs first.
  4. Allow at least one hour before applying the ice again.
  5. Continue to repeat the ice application 3 to 5 times per day for at least 72 hours (the acute stage) following an injury.

DO not freeze the skin tissue!

If you freeze the skin you will create a burn. The skin will react with some blistering, redness and sensitivity. If this happens do not be alarmed as it will eventually heal. Treat it as you would any burn. To avoid this always error on the side of caution.

Ice massage can be a very quick and effective method to control pain, reduce inflammation, spasm and swelling. This method should never be used at the same time, immediately before or following ice pack application.

Here are the directions for performing ice massage.

  1. Freeze some water in a paper or plastic cup with a popsicle stick immersed halfway into the water. This popsicle stick will act as a handle.
  2. Grasp the popsicle stick and remove the ice from the cup.
  3. Start massaging the painful area with the ice in an up-and-down or circular motion. Keep the ice moving. Do not stop and allow the ice to remain in an immobile position as this will risk freezing the skin and cause a burn.
  4. Apply firm but not heavy forceful pressure while massaging the area with the ice.
  5. During the massage you should notice four sensations:
  • Cold (obviously). You will feel this during the first 3 minutes.
  • Burning or stinging. At about the 3 to 4 minute mark the skin will feel a burning or stinging sensation.
  • Ache. This sensation will be felt about 4 1/2 minutes into the massage.
  • Numbness. At or around the 5 minute mark the area will achieve a state of numbness.

Do not massage beyond 5 minutes. The massage should be stopped when 5 minutes has elapsed or when the area has become numb...whichever happens first.

Always allow the tissue to warm for a minimum of one hour before
repeating .

Repeat as often as you like, 3 to 5 times per day is ideal.


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