Both heat and cold for back and neck strain mildly beneficial
Six articles on PainSci cite Garra 2010: 1. Icing for Injuries, Tendinitis, and Inflammation 2. (Almost) Never Use Ice on Low Back Pain! 3. The Complete Guide to Low Back Pain 4. The Complete Guide to Neck Pain & Cricks 5. Heat for Pain and Rehab 6. Ice versus Heat for Pain and Injury
PainSci commentary on Garra 2010: ?This page is one of thousands in the PainScience.com bibliography. It is not a general article: it is focused on a single scientific paper, and it may provide only just enough context for the summary to make sense. Links to other papers and more general information are provided wherever possible.
What’s better for neck and back pain — ice or heat? This experiment, conducted at a university-based emergency department, compared the effectiveness of these two common treatments. Everyone studied received 400mg of ibuprofen orally and then thirty patients were given a half hour of either a heating pad or a cold pack.
The researchers concluded that adding heat or cold to ibuprofen therapy did not change the result. Both heat and cold resulted in “mild yet similar improvement in the pain severity.” They recommend that the “choice of heat or cold therapy should be based on patient and practitioner preferences and availability.”
This study has major limitations. These were patients with pain so strong they went to the hospital, so many of them may have been well beyond the help of a hot pack or ice pack. And the ibuprofen was a significant confounding factor.
~ Paul Ingraham
original abstract †Abstracts here may not perfectly match originals, for a variety of technical and practical reasons. Some abstacts are truncated for my purposes here, if they are particularly long-winded and unhelpful. I occasionally add clarifying notes. And I make some minor corrections.
OBJECTIVES: Acute back and neck strains are very common. In addition to administering analgesics, these strains are often treated with either heat or cold packs. The objective of this study was to compare the analgesic efficacy of heat and cold in relieving pain from back and neck strains. The authors hypothesized that pain relief would not differ between hot and cold packs.
METHODS: This was a randomized, controlled trial conducted at a university-based emergency department (ED) with an annual census of 90,000 visits. ED patients>18 years old with acute back or neck strains were eligible for inclusion. All patients received 400 mg of ibuprofen orally and then were randomized to 30 minutes of heating pad or cold pack applied to the strained area. Outcomes of interest were pain severity before and after pack application on a validated 100-mm visual analog scale (VAS) from 0 (no pain) to 100 (worst pain), percentage of patients requiring rescue analgesia, subjective report of pain relief on a verbal rating scale (VRS), and future desire for similar packs. Outcomes were compared with t-tests and chi-square tests. A sample of 60 patients had 80% power to detect a 15-mm difference in pain scores.
RESULTS: Sixty patients were randomized to heat (n = 31) or cold (n = 29) therapy. Mean (+/-standard deviation [SD]) age was 37.8 (+/-14.7) years, 51.6% were female, and 66.7% were white. Groups were similar in baseline patient and pain characteristics. There were no differences between the heat and cold groups in the severity of pain before (75 mm [95% CI = 66 to 83] vs. 72 mm [95% CI = 65 to 78]; p = 0.56) or after (66 mm [95% CI = 57 to 75] vs. 64 mm [95% CI = 56 to 73]; p = 0.75) therapy. Pain was rated better or much better in 16/31 (51.6%) and 18/29 (62.1%) patients in the heat and cold groups, respectively (p = 0.27). There were no between-group differences in the desire for and administration of additional analgesia. Twenty-five of 31 (80.6%) patients in the heat group and 22 of 29 (75.9%) patients in the cold group would use the same therapy if injured in the future (p = 0.65).
CONCLUSIONS: The addition of a 30-minute topical application of a heating pad or cold pack to ibuprofen therapy for the treatment of acute neck or back strain results in a mild yet similar improvement in the pain severity. However, it is possible that pain relief is mainly the result of ibuprofen therapy. Choice of heat or cold therapy should be based on patient and practitioner preferences and availability.
This page is part of the PainScience BIBLIOGRAPHY, which contains plain language summaries of thousands of scientific papers & others sources. It’s like a highly specialized blog. A few highlights:
- Inciting events associated with lumbar disc herniation. Suri 2010 Spine J.
- Prediction of an extruded fragment in lumbar disc patients from clinical presentations. Pople 1994 Spine (Phila Pa 1976).
- Characteristics of patients with low back and leg pain seeking treatment in primary care: baseline results from the ATLAS cohort study. Konstantinou 2015 BMC Musculoskelet Disord.
- Effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of universal school-based mindfulness training compared with normal school provision in reducing risk of mental health problems and promoting well-being in adolescence: the MYRIAD cluster randomised controlled trial. Kuyken 2022 Evid Based Ment Health.
- Is there a relationship between throbbing pain and arterial pulsations? Mirza 2012 J Neurosci.