New stick-on heat wraps have been shown to help decrease back pain. They also decrease muscle soreness. But do they improve function or decrease disability when worn during exercise? That's the focus of this study.
Heat and exercise are often used together in the treatment of low back pain. Usually heat is applied while the patient is lying down in a comfortable position. Exercise is added after the heat treatment is done.
Research shows that activity and exercise work best with acute low back pain. Applying heat when a person is at rest goes against this advice. With the use of a low-level heat wrap, patients can use heat while remaining active. And the results of this study suggest it's a good idea to do so.
Patients using the heat wrap alone were compared with other groups using the heat wrap and exercise, exercise only, and an educational booklet. Using function, disability, and pain as measures of success, the patients in the heat and exercise group had the best results.
They reported greater function, decreased pain, and less disability than any other group. Patients using only heat or only exercise did better than those who just received a booklet. Maximum benefits of heat and exercise appear to occur on day seven after starting the treatment.
The authors conclude that doctors and physiotherapists can use this new information. Patients with acute low back pain may get the best results with early treatment using heat and exercise together.
John M. Mayer, PhD, et al. Treating Acute Low Back Pain With Continuous Low-Level Heat Wrap Therapy and/or Exercise: A Randomized Controlled Trial. In The Spine Journal. July/August 2005. Vol. 5. No. 4. Pp. 395-403.