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Review finds heat can ease back pain

A hot-water bottle can provide relief for patients with constant lower back pain, a new Cochrane review has concluded.

It found a short-term reduction in pain and disability with heat-wrap therapy ­ a beneficial effect that was more pronounced with the addition of exercise. There was not enough evidence to determine if cold therapy has a similar effect. The heat treatments looked at included hot-water bottles, heated packs filled with grain, poultices, hot towels, heat wraps and heat pads.

Dr Peter Stott, member of the National Osteoporosis Society Scientific Committee and a GP in Tadworth, Surrey, said this supported what had been seen as an old wives' tale. 'It is always nice to be able to say there is new evidence this will help.'

Dr Neil Amin, a GP in Enfield with an interest in pain management, said: 'I'm not sure many doctors recommend it, but it would be a good thing as it is non-drug modality. This is worth publicising.'

The research, which looked at nine trials of heat and cold therapy in 1,117 patients with acute and sub-acute low back pain, was published in issue one of the 2006 Cochrane library, which came out this week.

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