To do ice massage therapy, a regular ice cube may be used, but it’s better to use a larger piece of ice. One easy way to do this is to freeze water in a paper or Styrofoam cup, then peel the top inch or two of the cup to expose the ice surface.
Someone else can give the ice massage, with the patient lying on his or her stomach in a comfortable position. Placing a pillow or towel under the hips will help keep stress off the low back. Patients can also give themselves ice massages by lying on their side and reaching around to apply ice to the low back.
Read about other types of massage therapy in the Massage Therapy Health Center
5 Steps of Ice Massage Therapy
For optimal results, ice massage therapy should be gently applied to the lower back as follows:
- Apply the ice gently and massage in a circular motion
- Focus the ice massage therapy on the six-inch area of the back where the pain is felt
- Avoid applying the ice massage directly on the bony portion of the spine (the bones that protrude along the spinal column)
- Limit the ice massage therapy to about 5 minutes at a time (to avoid an ice burn)
- Repeat the ice massage two to five times a day.
In general, one should never apply ice directly to the skin to avoid burning the skin. However, with ice massage therapy it is acceptable to apply the ice to the skin because the ice doesn’t stay in one place for long.
The key to ice massage therapy is to achieve numbness in the area of injury without burning the skin. Once this ‘numbness’ has been achieved, gentle, minimal stress movements can be made. When the numbness has worn off, the ice massage can be applied again for another cycle.
Ice massage and ice application is generally most helpful during the first 48 hours following an injury that strains the back muscles. After this initial period, heat therapy is probably more beneficial to the healing process. For some people, alternating heat therapy with cold application/icing provides the most pain relief.
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Ice Massage Precautions
To avoid getting an ice burn, there are several precautions to take with ice therapy:
- When applying ice directly to the skin on the back, be sure to keep the ice moving in a slow, circular motion to avoid staying in one place too long.
- Limit the ice massage to no more than five minutes at a time.
- Be sure not to fall asleep with the ice resting on the skin.
- Ice application of any kind should be avoided by patients with certain medical conditions, such as for patients who have rheumatoid arthritis, Raynaud’s Syndrome, cold allergic conditions, paralysis, or areas of impaired sensation.
One does not have to include massage with the ice to benefit – simple application or an ice pack or cold pack to the painful area is also an effective pain reliever.