In a world of sophisticated medical care, a simple ice massage can still be one of the more effective, proven methods to treat a sore lower back or neck. It is effective when used either alone or in combination with other treatments.

For patients experiencing back pain, ice massage therapy is quick, free, easy to do, and it can provide significant relief for many types of back pain, and is especially effective for a sore back caused by lower back muscle strain.

How Ice Massage Works to Relieve Pain

Ice massages can help provide relief for back pain in a number of ways:

  • Ice application slows the inflammation and swelling that occurs after injury. Most back pain is accompanied by some type of inflammation, and addressing the inflammation helps reduce the pain
  • Ice numbs sore tissues (providing pain relief similar to a local anesthetic)
  • Ice application slows the nerve impulses in the area, which interrupts the pain-spasm reaction between the nerves
  • Icing decreases tissue damage
  • The massage adds the beneficial effects of gentle manipulation of the soft tissues

See also: Benefits of Heat Therapy for Lower Back Pain

Ice massage therapy is most effective if it is applied as soon as possible after the injury occurs, usually within 24 to 48 hours. The cold makes the veins in the tissues contract, reducing circulation. Once the cold is removed, the veins overcompensate and dilate and blood rushes into the area. The infusion of blood in the area brings with it the necessary nutrients to help the injured back muscles, ligaments and tendons to heal.


While any form of applying cold to the injured area - such as a bag of ice wrapped in a towel or a commercial ice pack - should be helpful, combining massage with ice application is a nice alternative for pain relief.

Ice Massage for Sore Back Muscles

Most episodes of lower back pain are caused by muscle strain. The large paired muscles in the low back (erector spinae) help hold up the spine, and with an injury the muscles can become inflamed and spasm, causing low back pain and significant stiffness.

See: Back Muscles and Low Back Pain

Common causes of muscle strain of the large back muscles include: a sudden movement, an awkward fall, lifting a heavy object (using the back muscles), or a sports-related injury. Any strain accompanied by a twisting motion is more likely to hurt the lower back muscles and cause pain.

Read more about Sport Injuries, Back Injuries, and Back Pain


While it sounds like a simple injury, a muscle strain can result in a surprising amount of pain. In fact, this type of injury is one of the most common reasons people go to the emergency room. However, not much can be done for a strained back muscle except for a short period of rest (for up to two days), pain relief medications and/or anti-inflammatory medications, and to apply ice and/or heat.

This article focuses how and when to use ice massage therapy for quick relief of back pain caused by muscle strain.

Dr. Stephen Hochschuler is an orthopedic surgeon and co-founder of the Texas Back Institute. He specializes in the lumbar spine and has been a practicing spine surgeon for more than 40 years.