Heat is often related to a feeling of comfort and heat therapy is the most popular treatment for pain relief. But how does heat therapy work for pain relief? Heat therapy works by improving blood circulation to the applied area. Increased blood circulation means increased oxygen to that area. Increased oxygen and blood circulation lead to faster tissue healing.
Heat therapy becomes more effective if the heat penetrates deep into the skin. Therefore, a constant application of heat is required for heat therapy. The temperature shouldn’t be high to burn your skin but hot enough to do its required job. The optimal temperature is around 32°C to 37.7°C or 92°F to 100°F.
There is another reason why heat therapy works. The Gate Theory of Pain. Simply put, the non-painful signals, in this case, heat signals, travel much faster than the pain signals. This prevents the signals from reaching your brain and central nervous system which gives you the feeling of relief.
When to use heat therapy?
Heat therapy is generally applied when there is muscle stiffness, chronic pain, joint aches, sore muscles, or fatigue.
Muscle stiffness or sore muscles after a workout can be treated with heat therapy for 10-15 minutes. If you have chronic back pain or aching joints, heat therapy for 20-30 minutes is more effective.
Relieving yourself from fatigue due to a long day of work or a long drive is best achieved by heat therapy.
How to use heat for therapy?
There are broadly two types of heat therapy. Dry heat therapy and moist heat therapy.
Dry heat such as electric heating pads, heating applies heat directly to the skin. It might absorb moisture for some people, but most get relief from the dry heat and easy to apply.
Moist heat such as steamed towels, hot baths provide heat along with moisture which helps some people to get a better result.
It is necessary that you don’t use heat for a long duration or with a high temperature. This may cause burns on the skin. It is better to use good quality and safe heating pads like the SandPuppy range of heating pads. If you do not have access to heating pads, you can use a hot water bottle or a makeshift heated cloth. You can also have a hot water bath if you prefer moist heat.
Although heat therapy can be used in many cases, it is not suitable to use in certain conditions such as these mentioned below:
Deep vein thrombosis
Peripheral vascular disease
Severe cognitive impairment