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Back pain health centre

Ice or heat

BMJ Group Medical Reference

Introduction

This information is for people who have a slipped disc. It tells you about ice and heat, treatments used for a slipped disc. It is based on the best and most up-to-date research.

Does it work?

We don't know whether applying ice or heat helps relieve pain caused by a slipped disc. There hasn't been enough good research to say whether or not it works.

What is it?

Some people put ice packs on their backs to help the pain. Other people use heat lamps, a warm bath, or a hot water bottle.

If you want to try this, you need to be careful not to burn or freeze your skin.

  • Don't use heat or ice for more than 15 minutes at a time.

  • Be careful not to put ice or strong heat directly onto your skin. Use a cloth or towel as a wrap.

A bag of frozen peas wrapped in a towel makes a good, reusable ice pack. Remember that they won't be safe to eat if they are thawed and refrozen.

How can it help?

We don't know whether heat or ice can help reduce back pain or sciatica (pain that runs through your buttock and down your leg) caused by a slipped disc. There isn't any good evidence one way or the other.

How does it work?

Ice packs may reduce swelling ( inflammation), which can be one of the reasons for back pain.

Putting heat on an ache can help blood flow in that area. For some injuries, this might help the healing process.

But it's not clear how heat or ice can help ease pain or sciatica that's caused by a slipped disc.

Can it be harmful?

We couldn't find any studies of these treatments, so we can't say whether there are any side effects.

It's possible to damage your skin if you use ice for too long. And you may burn yourself if you use too much heat. A leaking hot water bottle or tipped-over heat lamp could also cause accidental injuries.

How good is the research on ice or heat?

There isn't any good research on ice and heat treatment for people with a slipped disc.

We found one summary of the research (called a systematic review) that searched for studies on ice and heat. It didn't find any good-quality studies (called randomised controlled trials) comparing people using ice and heat on their backs with people who didn't have this treatment. [43]

Glossary

inflammation

Inflammation is when your skin or some other part of your body becomes red, swollen, hot, and sore. Inflammation happens because your body is trying to protect you from germs, from something that's in your body and could harm you (like a splinter) or from things that cause allergies (these things are called allergens). Inflammation is one of the ways in which your body heals an infection or an injury.

randomised controlled trials

Randomised controlled trials are medical studies designed to test whether a treatment works. Patients are split into groups. One group is given the treatment being tested (for example, an antidepressant drug) while another group (called the comparison or control group) is given an alternative treatment. This could be a different type of drug or a dummy treatment (a placebo). Researchers then compare the effects of the different treatments.

systematic reviews

A systematic review is a thorough look through published research on a particular topic. Only studies that have been carried out to a high standard are included. A systematic review may or may not include a meta-analysis, which is when the results from individual studies are put together.

For more terms related to Slipped disc

Citations

For references related to Slipped disc click here.
Last Updated: August 15, 2013
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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