What is heat therapy?
Heat therapy, also known as thermotherapy, works by applying heat to an affected area to treat damaged muscles, joints or tissues in the body. Its primary use is to help relieve persistent pains associated with muscle stiffness, sensitivity and cramping.
How does heat therapy work?
Heat therapy works by increasing the temperature of a particular area to improve blood flow and circulation, with the aim of soothing pain and discomfort and sometimes, even healing damaged areas of the body. It can also increase the flexibility of certain muscles by eliminating the buildup of lactic acid that occurs after certain exercises.
What does heat therapy consist of?
Various types of heat therapy treatments aim to warm areas of the body: dry heat, moist heat and professional heat therapy with the use of ultrasound or radiation.
- Dry heat — also known as conducted heat therapy, this type can take the form of heating pads, heat packs, hot water bottle, electrical heating pads and saunas.
- Moist heat — also known as convection heat, it can take the form of moist heating packs, hot baths and steamed cloths or towels.
- Thermal ultrasound — ultrasound heating applications can be used to treat certain conditions such as tendonitis. The transmission of sound waves causes tiny vibrations in the tissues that increase friction and generate heat.
Many professionals believe that moist heat therapy works better than dry heat because water transfers heat more quickly than air. They also argue than moist heat can heat the tissues ‘more deeply’, allowing more blood flow and better results.
There are now newer versions of heat therapy available that combine a carbon fibre heater with a rechargeable battery. This is built into a body wrap and can be used as targeted heat therapy, e.g. back wrap or shoulder wrap.
How long does heat therapy last?
The duration of heat therapy depends on the problems you are experiencing. Often, minor muscle stiffness can be relieved after around 15-20 minutes of applying heat therapy. If you have moderate to severe pain, you would benefit more from longer sessions. This can last from between 30 minutes to two hours.
What conditions does heat therapy treat?
Heat is useful for relieving the following:
- muscle aches and pains
- stiffness in muscles and joints
- strains and sprains
- muscle spasms
- pain associated with neck or back injury
When not to use heat therapy
It is important to note that heat therapy is not suitable for all types of injuries and should not be applied to pain that presents alongside inflammation. If the injured area is already hot, then you will not benefit from applying heat; you should instead apply a cold pack to restrict blood flow and reduce inflammation.
These are some of the times you shouldn’t use heat therapy:
- open wounds
- fresh injuries
- any time when the skin is hot, red or inflamed
If you have high blood pressure or any condition that affects your heart, you should always consult your doctor before undergoing any kind of heat therapy.