Everything You Need to Know about Heat Therapy

By Savanna Stone
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What is heat therapy?

Heat therapy works to provide muscle pain relief by improving blood circulation. There are two types of heat therapy: dry heat (heating pads, saunas) that takes moisture from your body and moist heat (moist heating packs, hot baths) that adds moisture to your body and penetrates deeper. 

What are the benefits of heat therapy?

Heat therapy can help relieve pain from tightness or muscle spasms, especially lower back pain. Heat therapy also helps to heal the pain faster by increasing blood circulation to the painful area. As heat is applied, the blood vessels dilate, allowing blood to flow faster to the area experiencing pain, which increases the amount of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles. The heat from the heating device reaches a few centimeters into the muscle, providing deep relief. Applying heat will also stimulate sensory receptors in the skin causing the transmission of pain signals to the brain to decrease, relieving some of the pain. Heat therapy also increases flexibility and reduces muscle tension. Not to mention, it is also one of the cheapest ways to get rid of back pain or muscle pain.  Heat therapy can even help reduce soreness after exercise, relaxing the knots (or trigger points) in your back and reducing stress. Applying heat is also reassuring to the body and mind—heat means safety, home, hearth. 

How to apply heat therapy.

For both heat therapy and cold therapy, do what feels best to your body. However, unlike cold therapy, heat therapy can be used for longer periods of time. If you have mild pain, start off with 15 to 20 minutes of applied heat a few times throughout the day. If you have more severe pain, take a half hour bath or longer so the heat reaches deeper into your muscles. For heat therapy to be most effective, apply heat a few times a day for a few days.

What products are out there that help apply heat therapy?

Here at Chirp, we have a lot of products that can help you apply heat therapy. One of the best ones is the Handheld Hot & Cold Massage Ball. This product is a ball that comes in a holder so that you don’t have to get your hands hot while applying heat therapy to your injured area. 

What you should NOT use heat therapy for.

 Both ice and heat can make the pain worse if your body doesn’t want them. If you apply ice when you’re already freezing or apply heat when you’re already burning up, your body will see the therapy as a threat, and you’ll feel more pain. There are certain things you should watch out for before you try and use heat therapy. If you have any of the following, do not use heat therapy:

  • Inflammation
  • Dermatitis
  • Severe cognitive impairment
  • Open wounds
  • Peripheral vascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • Infection
  • Fresh injury
  • Swelling

How does heat therapy help with upper back pain?

Most upper back pain is caused by overuse, injury, poor posture, disc issues, osteoarthritis, or myofascial pain (knots in your back). Heat therapy can work well for all of these issues, especially sore muscles and myofascial pain. The heat works to soothe sore or tired muscles, enhancing circulation and delivering nutrients and oxygen to the injured area. 

How does heat therapy help with lower back pain?

The number one cause of lower back pain is a torn or pulled muscle or ligament. Heat therapy can help with common muscle strains or sprains by encouraging healing and relaxing the muscles. Lower back pain can also be caused by herniated discs, degenerative disc disease, facet joint dysfunction, sacroiliac joint dysfunction, spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, osteoarthritis, deformity, trauma, or compression fractures. People with these back issues should ask their doctors about using heat therapy, as it can help relieve pain and promote healing. 

How does heat therapy help with neck pain?

Most neck pain is caused by muscle strains, worn joints, nerve compression, injuries, or diseases, such as degenerative disc disease, cervical spondylosis, or spinal stenosis. Heat therapy can help with these issues; however, if you have an open wound on your neck or any part of your body, do not use heat therapy to treat it.

How does heat therapy help with foot pain?

There are a lot of possible causes of foot pain: Achilles tendinitis, tarsal tunnel syndrome, plantar fasciitis, osteoarthritis, and many more. If you’re not sure what is wrong with your feet, it doesn’t hurt to try both heat therapy and cold therapy for a short time to see which helps you feel better. If you know your foot pain is inflammatory pain, don’t use heat therapy.


Sources:

  1. https://www.healthline.com/health/chronic-pain/treating-pain-with-heat-and-cold
  2. https://www.spine-health.com/treatment/heat-therapy-cold-therapy/benefits-heat-therapy-lower-back-pain
  3. https://www.spine-health.com/treatment/heat-therapy-cold-therapy/how-apply-heat-therapy
  4. https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=134&contentid=95
  5. https://www.painscience.com/articles/heating.php
  6. https://www.painscience.com/articles/icing-exceptions.php
  7. https://www.painscience.com/articles/ice-heat-confusion.php
  8. https://www.painscience.com/articles/icing.php
  9. https://www.painscience.com/articles/heating.php
  10. https://www.ramsayhealth.co.uk/blog/2016/03/29/11-ways-of-relieving-upper-and-middle-back-pain
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  12. https://www.spine-health.com/conditions/lower-back-pain/causes-lower-back-pain
  13. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/neck-pain/symptoms-causes/syc-20375581
  14. https://www.medicinenet.com/neck_pain/article.htm
  15. https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/foot-pain/basics/causes/sym-20050792