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Heat Wrap May Help Back Pain

Workers in Study Reported Less Low Back Pain After Using Heat Wraps
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Heat Wraps Don't Heal Damage

Although most adults experience low back pain at some point in their lives, in about 90% of cases the pain resolves on its own within two months, regardless of treatment, pain treatment expert John Loeser, MD, tells WebMD.

"Voltaire said it best," Loeser says. "He said, 'Nature cures, but doctors get the credit.' That is really the way it is with back pain."

An effective treatment minimizes pain but doesn't necessarily shorten the course of the injury, he says, adding that many patients get a good deal of pain relief with heat wraps.

"Heat wraps don't heal damaged tissue, but they do make many people feel better," he says. "And that allows them to resume their normal activities. If a treatment controls pain while nature solves the problem, it is worthwhile."

Other Approaches for Pain Relief

Internationally known for his work in pain management, Loeser is a professor of neurosurgery and anesthesiology at Seattle's University of Washington School of Medicine. His other recommendations for treating acute low back pain include.

  • Use non-narcotic, anti-inflammatory pain drugs as recommended by your doctor.

  • Get back to a normal range of activities as quickly as you can, and minimize bed rest. "There is no organ in the human body that becomes healthier with bed rest," he says. "From your brain to your back, the best evidence we have is that activity is more therapeutic than bed rest."

  • Exercise wisely. "Don't go out and move pianos, or even swing a golf club aggressively," he says. "You want to do repetitive exercise that doesn't involve a lot of sudden twisting or lifting." He says walking, jogging, swimming, and even cycling are good choices for someone with a sore back.

  • Fire or ice. Some people swear by ice to control the pain of back strain, while heat works better for others. "Whatever works for you," Loeser says.

Likewise, many other treatments, from massage to acupuncture, may help control back pain. But no single treatment has been shown to heal an injured back quicker, he says.

"Nobody has been able to prove that a specific treatment makes you better quicker, because most people get better anyway within 60 days," Loeser says. "You can't beat nature."

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