These days we are hearing a lot of talk about cryotherapy. There are many different forms of cryotherapy, including ice baths, cold chambers, and cool pools.
Cryotherapy For Back Pain Prevention?
But while cryotherapy is not a new therapy, and it is widely used, what evidence is there to support its effects on musculo-skeletal conditions like low back pain?
What Does Cryotherapy Do?
Ice therapy is often used by physical therapists to manage low back pain. Ice therapy can help to reduce inflammation, numb pain, and improve mobility.
Cryotherapy decreases the temperature of the tissue surface to minimize and reduce hypoxic cell death (where blood and nutrients don’t circulate to the cells properly) as well as swelling and muscle spasms.
In a nutshell, ice can help to reduce inflammation in our muscles, making them healthier and less sensitive to pain.
5 Ways You Can Use Ice For Low Back Pain Therapy
Here are five different ways that you can use ice as a back pain treatment:
1. Ice packs
Applying an ice pack to the affected area can help reduce inflammation and numb pain. You can easily make ice packs at home simply by using a plastic bag filled with ice or purchased from a store.
If you use an ice pack, make sure to wrap it in a towel first (so that you don’t burn your skin) and then apply it to the affected area for 15-20 minutes at a time, several times a day.
2. Ice massage
You don’t have to spend tons of money on anything fancy. You can do a simple ice massage from the comfort and convenience of your own home, too. An ice massage can be performed using a small foam roller or a plastic bag filled with ice.
To perform an ice massage, gently roll the ice over the affected area for 5-10 minutes at a time, several times a day. Ice massages can help reduce pain, swelling, and stiffness especially when you are suffering from low back pain.
3. Ice bath
You can create your own makeshift ice bath by filling a large tub with water and adding ice. To use an ice bath, sit in the tub for 5-10 minutes at a time (or as long as you can stand it!), several times a day. Ice baths are thought to help reduce pain, swelling, and stiffness.
4. Ice compression
Ice compression involves wrapping an ice pack in a compression wrap and applying it to the affected area. To use ice compression, apply the wrap to the affected area for 15-20 minutes at a time, several times a day. Ice compression can help reduce pain, swelling, and stiffness.
5. Ice packs and stretching
Stretching can help improve mobility and reduce pain. To use ice packs and stretching in combination, place your ice pack on your lower back muscles for 15-20 minutes and then stretch those muscles for 5-10 minutes. Repeat the process several times a day.
5 Ways Ice Can Help Heal Back Pain
In addition to these five different types of ice therapy, here are five different situations where ice can help heal low back pain:
1. Acute injuries
If you have sustained an acute injury, like a muscle strain or sprain, ice can help to reduce pain, swelling, and stiffness. Apply ice to the affected area as soon as possible after the injury and continue to do so for several days.
2. Chronic pain
If you have chronic low back pain, ice can help reduce pain and improve mobility. Apply ice to the affected area several times a day to help manage your pain.
If you experience low back pain after exercising, ice can help reduce pain, swelling, and stiffness. Apply ice to the affected area as soon as possible after exercising and continue to do so for several hours.
If you have inflammation in your low back, ice can help reduce pain and swelling. Apply ice to the affected area several times a day to help manage your pain.
If you have stiffness in your low back, ice can help improve mobility and reduce pain. Apply ice to the affected area several times a day to help manage your pain.
So, Does Ice Work For Low Back Pain?
A 2014 study published in the Journal Of Clinical And Diagnostic Research studied 87 men and women with an average age of 35 years old although the ages ranged from 30-50 years. They treated half the patients with heat therapy and the other half with cryotherapy.
Interestingly, the results showed that the group who received heat therapy did better than the ice therapy/cryotherapy group. This was a significant difference.
Latest Data On Cryotherapy/ Ice Therapy For MSK Conditions
In 2021, a study was published in the Journal Pain Therapy that looked at the use of cryotherapy for managing chronic pain. The authors looked at a range of studies from the years 2000 to 2020 and they found that 'both local and non-local cryotherapy applications show promise in reducing chronic pain associated with various chronic diseases'.
They concluded that 'Cryotherapy appears to be a safe therapy in carefully selected patients, with only minimal adverse effects'.
Cold Water Immersion Therapy For Back Pain
One of the most recent studies that has been done on cryotherapy for muscle pain was published in the Journal Of Rehabilitation Medicine in February, 2022. Researchers did a meta-analysis of many studies to answer the question, does ice work for low back pain?
The authors of the study looked at more than 59 studies with more than 1,000 patients in total. For cryotherapy they looked at cold-water immersion therapy, as well as cold packs and ice massage.
Their findings: ‘Using network meta-analysis and ranking, it was found that, within 48 h post-exercise, use of hot-pack was superior to other interventions, whereas, over 48 h post-exercise, cryotherapy was the optimal intervention for pain relief in patients with delayed onset muscle soreness.’
Cold Therapy For Sore Muscles After Exercise
Cryotherapy seems to help manage muscle soreness and helps facilitate recovery shortly after a sport-related activity. Athletes who used cryotherapy within the first 24 hours for pain relief, recovered faster than athletes who didn’t use it.
Side Effects Of Cryotherapy For Back Pain
There are a number of studies that have looked at some of the side effects of cryotherapy for back pain. Some of these side effects include:
Risk of frostbite
Cold urticaria (like hives)
Ice therapy has been shown to help people with low back pain. Whether you use ice packs, ice massage, ice bath, ice compression, or a combination of these methods, ice can help reduce pain, swelling, and stiffness, and improve mobility.
Since cryotherapy has fewer side-effects than some other back pain treatments, and it is often easy to do and inexpensive, it should definitely be considered for those who struggle with low back pain.
If you are thinking about trying cryotherapy for your low back pain you should speak with your physical therapist before starting any ice therapy to make sure it is safe and appropriate for your specific condition.