For years, heat has been used for comfort and analgesia is recommended as a first-line therapy in many clinical guidelines. Yet, there are questions that remain about the actual effectiveness of heat for a condition as common as chronic low back pain, and factors such as time of onset, optimal temperature, and duration of effect.
A randomized double-blinded controlled trial was designed to compare the analgesic response to heat delivered via pulses at 45°C (experimental group, N=49) to steady heat at 37°C (control group, N=51) in subjects with longstanding low back pain. Treatment lasted 30 minutes with follow-up out to four hours. The hypothesis was that the experimental group would experience a higher degree of analgesia compared to the control group. Time of onset and duration of effect were also measured.
Both groups were similar in average duration of pain (10.3 years). The primary outcome measure was pain reduction at 30 minutes after the end of treatment, using a 10-points numeric pain scale. Reduction in pain was greater for the experimental group than the control group (difference in mean reduction = 0.72, 95% CI 0.15–1.29, p = 0.014). Statistically significant differences in pain levels were observed from the first measure at 5 minutes of treatment through 120 minutes after completion of treatment. Reduction in pain associated movement was greater in the active heat group than the placebo group (p = 0.04).
High-level pulsed heat (45°C) produced significantly more analgesia as compared to steady heat at 37°C at the primary end point and for an additional 2 hours after treatment. The onset of analgesia was rapid, <5 minutes of treatment. The results of this trial provide insight into the mechanisms and properties of thermal analgesia that are not well understood in a chronic low back pain model.
Point your SmartPhone at the code above. If you have a QR code reader the video abstract will appear. Or use: