Introduction to heat
therapy for lower back pain
While the overall qualities of warmth and
heat have long been associated with comfort and relaxation,
heat therapy goes a step further and can provide both pain
relief and healing benefits for many types of lower back pain.
In addition, heat therapy for lower back pain in the form
of heating pads, heat wraps, hot baths, warm gel packs, etc.
is both inexpensive and easy to do.
How heat therapy works
Lower back pain result from strains and over-exertion, creating
tension in the muscles and soft tissues around the lower spine.
As a result, this restricts proper circulation and sends pain
signals to the brain.
Muscle spasm in the lower back can create sensations that
may range from mild discomfort to excruciating lower back
pain. Heat therapy can help relieve pain from the muscle spasm
and related tightness in the lower back.
Heat therapy application can help provide
lower back pain relief through several mechanisms:
• Heat therapy dilates the blood vessels of the muscles
surrounding the lumbar spine. This process increases the flow
of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles, helping to heal the
• Heat stimulates the
sensory receptors in the skin, which means that applying heat
to the lower back will decrease transmissions of pain signals
to the brain and partially relieve the discomfort.
• Heat application facilitates
stretching the soft tissues around the spine, including muscles,
connective tissue, and adhesions. Consequently, with heat
therapy, there will be a decrease in stiffness as well as
injury, with an increase in flexibility and overall feeling
of comfort. Flexibility is very important for a healthy back.
There are several other significant benefits
of heat therapy that make it so appealing. Compared to most
therapies, heat therapy is quite inexpensive (and in many
circumstances it’s free - such as taking a hot bath).
Heat therapy is also easy to do - it can be done at home while
relaxing and portable heat wraps also make it an option while
at work or in the car.
For many people, heat therapy works best when
combined with other treatment modalities, such as physical
therapy and exercise. Relative to most medical treatments
available, heat therapy is appealing to many people because
it is a non-invasive and non-pharmaceutical form of lower
back pain relief.
How to apply heat
The most effective heat therapy products are
the ones that can maintain their heat at the proper temperature.
“Warm” is the proper temperature. Patients should
not have their heat source too hot to the point of burning
the skin. The desired effect is for the heat to penetrate
down into the muscles. Simply increasing the temperature of
the skin will do little to decrease discomfort.
In many instances, the longer the heat is
applied, the better. The duration that one needs to apply
the heat, though, is based on the type of and/or magnitude
of the injury. For very minor back tension, short amounts
of heat therapy may be sufficient (such as 15 to 20 minutes).
For more intense injuries, longer sessions of heat may be
more beneficial (such as 30 minutes to 2 hours, or more).
Two options of heat therapy
include moist heat and dry heat.
• Dry heat, such as
electric heating pads and saunas, draw out moisture from the
body and may leave the skin dehydrated. However, some people
feel that dry heat is the easiest to apply and feels the best.
• Moist heat, such as hot baths, steamed towels or moist
heating packs can aid in the heat’s penetration into
the muscles and some people feel that moist heat provides
better pain relief.
A specific type of heat therapy
may feel better for one person than for another and it may
require some experimentation to figure out which one works
best for you.
There are many different manners
for heat to be applied to the lower back. Some common options
• Hot water bottle - tends to stay warm for 20 to 30
• Electric heating pad - maintains a constant level
of heat as long as it is plugged in.
• Heated gel packs - may be heated in the microwave,
or sometimes heated in water and tend to say warm for about
30 minutes. Certain types of gel packs provide moist heat,
which some people prefer.
hot and cold pack alleviates back pain
• Heat wraps - wraps around the lower back and waist
and may be worn against the skin under clothing, providing
convenience and several hours of low level of heat application.
5 Star Rating
Ideal for treating back
ache, or pain resulting from arthritis and muscle soreness.
The thermal Lumbar Support stabilizes and supports the lumbar
sacral region whilst it’s reusable microwave thermal
gel pack provides therapeutic warmth.
Ventilated elasticated side panels
ensure that the support remains comfortable yet firm with
the integral mesh pocket holding the gel inset securely over
the lumbar region, whilst facilitating easy removal for re-heating.
the Thermal Back Support
•Hot bath, hot tub, sauna, steam bath - tend to stimulate
general feelings of comfort and relaxation that may help reduce
muscle spasms and pain. A whirlpool jet directed at the lower
back may provide the added benefit of a light massage.
Finally, it is important to
use enough insulation between the heat source and the skin
to avoid overheating or burning the skin.
Heat should not be used in
certain circumstances. For example, if the lower back is swollen
or bruised, heat should not be used. Patients should consult
doctors if they have heart disease or hypertension. Heat application
is also not suitable in the following cases:
• Deep vein thrombosis
• Peripheral vascular disease
• Open wound
• Severe cognitive impairment
In general, if the injured
area is swollen or bruised it is better to apply ice or a
cold pack to reduce the inflammation or swelling.