Cold: Good for reducing the initial inflammation of acute back strain or sprain. The cold also distracts from the back pain. Wrap ice in a cloth and apply to area of back pain for 20 minutes every four hours. After 4 or 5 days, heat can be applied.
*If you have circulation problems or nerve damage do not use hot or cold therapies unless recommended by a physician.
Heat: Do not apply heat to an inflamed area. Soothing heat applied to the back increases blood circulation to the back, speeding healing and helping the muscles to relax. The heat is also a distraction from the back pain. Apply heat 20 minutes at a time. Heat can be in the form of hot water bottles, heating pads, or a hot shower or bath. Moist heat penetrates more deeply and more quickly than dry heat.
*Wait at least an hour between heat applications. Do not sleep on a heating pad to avoid overheating the tissues.