Heat therapy, also known as thermotherapy, serves mainly as a muscle relaxant. Heat opens blood vessels in our muscles and soft tissues. The increased blood flow seems to promote a healing response. It can reduce tightness and help calm muscle spasms and soreness while carrying much needed oxygen and nutrients to an injury
When to use Heat
- Muscle spasms & Trigger points. Heat application can calm and relax the muscle taking the edge off the pain
- Soothing the nervous system & mind. Warming the body through a hot bath, sauna, or body wrap, can reduce stress and fear (major factors in many chronic pain problems)
- Headaches & Migraines. Applying heat to feet via tub or wrapping in hot towels causes a derivative effect drawing blood away from the head
- Arthritis. Apply heat to stiff joints to relieve pain and to ease discomfort. (Remember Applying ice helps reduce painful inflammation)
- Muscle stiffness. Applying heat will warm the muscles improving soft tissue extensibility (Imagine bread dough becoming softer and more pliable after removing from refrigerator and then warmed)
- Detoxification. Localized heat application or full body heat as in a bath or sauna enhances blood flow, this assists in removing toxins from cells
- Pain. Aches from any of the above can be relieved by calming the tissue with heat
- When an injury is older than 48 hours – Heat causes the blood vessels to open wide (dilate). This brings more blood into the area to stimulate healing of damaged tissues
- Prior to stretching tight muscles – Heat will warm the muscles improving soft tissue extensibility providing a more effective and comfortable stretch
When not to use Heat
The following are contraindications to heat therapy. This means that if you have any of the below conditions then using heat may likely worsen the condition.
- New Injury – Do not use heat on a new injury. This will increase bleeding around the injured area and may make the problem worse.
- Poor Sensation – When there is an area of numbness or altered sensitivity, heat therapy will not be felt by the patient and could therefore damage tissue.
- Swollen & Inflamed areas – Heat draws blood to an area, and will therefore cause further unneeded inflammation.
How to use Heat
First – A specific type of heat therapy may feel better for one person than for another. Use what works best for you. Here are a few different types of heat:
- Moist Hot Towel, wet a towel and wring it. Place in microwave for 1 min or crockpot on low for 20 min to heat. Check temperature before placing towel on injured or sore area
- Electric Heating Pad, maintains a constant level of heat as long as it is plugged in, place a barrier between skin and heating pad, be careful not to burn the skin
- Hot Water Bottle, tends to stay warm for 20-30 min
- Rice Sock, Place 1-2 cups rice in tube sock and tie open end, warm in microwave for 1 minute
- Hot Bath, A hot bath can stay warm for upwards of 30 minutes, relax and enjoy
- Sauna, A great way to warm the body. Rain Wellness’ sauna has Full Spectrum technology to improve circulation, detoxification, and relaxation
Second – Use enough insulation between the skin and the heat source to protect the skin from burning, check skin every 2-5 minutes when using electric sources to prevent burning
Third – Heating may be done in intervals of 10 to 20 minutes at least three times per day. This is typically done for two to three days to calm a specific area or injury**. Repeat as recommended by your Registered Massage Therapist.
**If an injury persists, please seek medical care immediately.