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"Does ice help ease back pain?"


I am a 33 year old female with back pain. Should I apply ice? It's usually on my lower back.


Lower back pain is a very common problem. It can have many causes: strain of the lower back muscles, shifting of the discs in the spine, pinching of a nerve coming out of the spine, arthritis of the bones in the spine, etc. All of these disorders can present with similar or different types of back pain, and can be diagnosed with a physical exam done by your primary care physician or, if severe, an orthopedic surgeon, or with imaging studies.

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However, all of these lower back pain conditions have the same common mechanism of inflammation. Inflammation is a natural process where the body's immune system reacts to damage to the tissues by trying to repair it. But in the process of doing so, the immune cells secrete a lot of substances that cause more damage and often cause pain. Ice is one of many treatments that helps to decrease inflammation. It does so by decreasing how much blood flow (and thus inflammatory cells) get to the area of the pain and inflammation. Ice can be helpful to decrease inflammation and pain, but, unfortunately, this effect is short-lived once the ice comes off. Other anti-inflammatory treatments, like NSAID medicines like ibuprofen or naproxen act longer. Please discuss this further with your primary care physician.

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