Heat can soothe aches and pains. However, in the case of low back pain, heat treatments have never been shown to provide lasting pain relief. This is true of heating pads and other short-term heat treatments that patients use for a half-hour or so while resting. But these researchers tested what would happen if patients wore a 104-degree heat wrap for at least eight hours during normal daily activities. The results were impressive.
The study involved patients with moderate to severe low back pain. Measures were taken for patients' pain, muscle stiffness, flexibility when bending over at the waist, and back function. The patients were divided into different treatment groups, including one group that took ibuprofen and one group that wore a sham heat wrap. The groups followed their treatment plans for three days, and testing continued for another two days.
The heat wraps showed significantly better results. The heat wrap gave about 67 percent greater pain relief over all five days. Patients getting heat wrap treatment had less muscle stiffness, better flexibility, and better function. Only one patient reported problems with red skin, but the problem went away by itself.
The authors think the some of the benefits of continuous therapy is because patients can wear the heat wrap while they are active. Much research has shown that bed rest can make low back pain worse. If continuous heat wrap therapy holds up in future research, it could be an important new treatment when genralized low back pain first hits.
Scott F. Nadler, DO, et al. Continuous Low-Level Heatwrap Therapy for Treating Acute Nonspecific Low Back Pain. In Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. March 2003. Vol. 84. No. 3. Pp. 329-334.