I've read that when a severe attack of back pain starts, use ice rather than heat to help reduce any inflammation. It's something I just can't do - I prefer heat and just the thought of something cold on me makes me shiver.
It does say however that it will reduce swelling and can ease pain by numbing local tissue, ice can also slow down neurological impulses where the pain is, forcing nerves to send less pain messages to the brain. It will also lower temperature which then helps to increase circulation and bring oxygen and nutrients to the area to help remove pain.
You should not put ice directly on your skin but wrap in a towel and leave on no longer than 20 minutes at a time.
Heat also helps increase circulation to the pain area but if put on too soon it will cause increased swelling and discomfort to the pain area. A hot wet towel has been said to work wonders.
The trouble is that my back attacks are from herniated (slipped) discs and I'm not sure whether inflammation even comes into the equation - neither heat nor ice would be able to send the disc back, its just usually time and patience.
To me there is something about heat that has always given me a feeling of healing, maybe from when I was a child as whenever I was ill my Mum would give me a hot water bottle to make me better. I suppose it could be a placebo reaction, but as long as I think it helps it is something that I will always use for my pain. I've also done exactly the same with my children over the years and they also think of heat as healing the problem.