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Heat Wrap May Help Back Pain

Workers in Study Reported Less Low Back Pain After Using Heat Wraps
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Jan. 23, 2006 -- About half of all working-age Americans experience low back pain in any given year, costing the U.S. economy between $20 and $50 billion annually in lost productivity.

But an over-the-counter approach to controlling back pain just may help get some of these people back to work quicker, researchers from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine are reporting.

In their study, hospital employees seeking treatment for work-related low back pain reported significantly less pain when continuous low-level heat wraps were used along with standard treatment.

The study was paid for by Procter & Gamble, manufacturer of the ThermaCare HeatWrap.

"The people who used the heat wraps had more mobility with less pain," researcher Edward J. Bernacki, MD, tells WebMD. Bernacki directs the division of occupational medicine at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Measuring Pain Intensity

The small study included 43 patients treated at the occupational injury clinic for acute low back pain. People with a history of chronic back pain or back problems, other chronic body pains, or back surgery were not included in this study.

Eighteen of the patients received education regarding back therapy and pain management alone. The other 25 received the same intervention along with the heat wraps, worn on the lower back for eight hours during the day for three consecutive days.

People in both groups took pain relief medications as needed.

Both groups were assessed for pain intensity and pain relief four times each day during the three treatment days. Pain was also measured during follow-up visits about one and two weeks later.

The researchers reported that the heat-wrap-treated patients "had significantly reduced pain intensity, increased pain relief, and improved disability scores during and after treatment."

The study appeared in the December 2005 issue of The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

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