Many times, we apply heat or cold therapy based on instinct. And other times we do this because a friend or family member once used either of this therapy to bring about relief. Truth is, if you do not make use of the appropriate therapy for your condition, you might get to worsen it. The therapeutic effects of heat cannot be overemphasized especially in musculoskeletal injuries. While heat therapy also known as thermotherapy is commonly used for a rehabilitative purpose, there are conditions in which the use of heat might be contra-indicated. These include acute injuries or inflammation, and others.
Thermotherapy could be in form of a hot tub, hot water bottle, heat wrap, heated gel pack, or heated paraffin. Here are general conditions in which the use of heat therapy will be beneficial:
Muscle Injury Recovery
In muscle injury recovery, heat therapy works by inducing a biological response. It increases the temperature of the affected area, resulting in an increase in blood flow (vasodilation) to that area of the body. This will also increase the metabolic rate and tissue extensibility. The blood supplies healing and repair cells to the site of injury, together with oxygen, thereby speeding the healing process and also relaxing and soothing the muscles. This implies that there might be slight inflammation. Therefore, this therapy should be employed in chronic conditions later than three days of the injury.
However, many times after overtasking your muscles in a rigorous workout, you might experience muscle soreness. This results from tears and build-up of lactic acid. You may decide to make use of a heat pad or soak yourself in a warm tub depending on whether the pain is localized in a specific region of your body, or it is general body pain. Either way, the heat therapy assists in improving blood circulation and removing the lactic acid, thus relaxing your muscles.
Eases Body Stiffness and Tension
For individuals with chronic low back pain, heat therapy is an effective treatment technique. It helps to improve the mobility of your lower back muscles and also relieves you of low back pain. Stiffness of the back muscles or stiffness that results from sleeping in a bad position may lead to pains and difficulty in moving the affected part of the body. With appropriate heat therapy (e.g. hot tubes, heat pad) however, the muscles will be more flexible and relieved.
Also, when you feel tense after a long stressful day at work, a hot compress can help relieve the tension in your muscles. It provides comfort and soothing your muscles.
Heat therapy does not cure chronic arthritis. Osteoarthritis, for example, does not have a cure yet. But appropriate heat therapy like a hydro-collator pad will prove effective in managing its symptoms. Thermotherapy helps in managing the pain and stiffness that accompany osteoarthritis. This enables you to carry out your activities of daily living more comfortably. For example, using a warm paraffin or heat pack on a sore joint will relieve the pain and stiffness. When using heat, be careful it is not so hot to cause a blister on your skin. The degree of hotness and duration are important factors to remember.
General body pain, muscle and joint pain, fibromyalgia, sciatica, and pain in the lower back can all be managed with thermotherapy. Sciatic nerve pain, for example, presents with a burning sensation down the back of your thigh. During its initial three to five days, you may want to apply cryotherapy in managing the initial inflammation that results from the pain. Thereafter, heat therapy should be applied to manage the discomfort.
While acute pain may be treated with cold therapy, moderate to severe pain can be resolved with heat therapy of about 30minutes.
When not to Use Heat Therapy
It is not every injury that warrants the use of heat therapy. Here are some injuries or conditions when you should not apply thermotherapy:
- When there is an infection.
- When there is impaired sensation.
- Acute injuries.
- Acute inflammation.
- Open wounds.
- Individuals with diabetes or vascular diseases.
- Individuals with deep venous thrombosis or multiple sclerosis.
Precautions Using Heat Therapy
For conditions that warrant the use of heat therapy, there are precautions to put in mind:
- While using a heat pad or towel for your heat therapy, be sure not to leave it on your skin for a long period especially when dozing off.
- Do not use too hot water for your therapy.
If you apply heat therapy appropriately and it does not improve your condition for seven days, you may want to consult your doctor.