What Is Heat Therapy?
Heat therapy (thermo-therapy) is the concept of using heat for pain relief and other health therapy. The heat can take the form of hot water bottle, heating pads, hot towels, heat wraps, etc.
It is clinically proven to be beneficial to people with the following conditions:
- Stiff muscles
- Injuries in the deep tissue muscle
- Menstrual cramps
- Backaches & neck/shoulder pains
How Does Heat Therapy Work?
Heat therapy primarily works using three pathways:
Heat tends to stimulate the sensory receptors on your skin. Therefore, by applying heat to areas with pain, the transmission of pain signals to the brain decreases, which “distracts” your brain from the pain.
2. Vascular Pathway
Heat-induced vascular reactions (dilating the blood vessels), increases blood flow to the area in pain. The increase in blood flow dilutes the pain by increasing the flow of oxygen and nutrients to muscle in pain.
The increase of oxygen and nutrient in these muscles are important as when they are cramped or in pain, the muscles go through anaerobic respiration (a lack of oxygen produces lactic acid in the muscles).
3. Biophysical Pathway
Heat facilitates the stretching of soft tissues around the muscles, adhesions, spine and connective tissue- surrounding the muscle in pain. This helps with relieving stiffness, increasing flexibility in the muscle, therefore bringing comfort.
Why Use Heat Therapy?
Heat has been a common method for relief since the beginning of time. It is the most common type of passive, non-invasive and non-addictive therapy to relieve pain and aches (especially chronic pain).
Heat has also been clinically proven to help reduce pain and aches. Medical studies have stated that low and continuous localised heat therapy is ideal to bring in pain relief to stiff muscles, arthritis, back pains, neck or shoulder pains and menstrual cramps. Heat therapy is know to work as well as anti-inflammatory drugs (over the counter pills such as aspirin, ibuprofen, advil & panadol) to help relieve pain and aches. In fact, there are additional benefits when you use heat therapy:
2. No Side Effects
As heat is natural and does not use any chemicals, there are no side-effects of using it. Usually with painkillers & muscle relaxants, there are various chemicals used in its production, causing long-term side effects such as drowsiness, dizziness, stomach pain, diarrhoea, muscle weakness, etc (just to name a few). The lack of chemicals also allows heat therapy to be non-addictive.
With certain heating tools like heat packs, electrical heating pads, hot water bottles and towels, heat therapy is an odourless process. However, some heat patches could be medicated (TCM, herbs, etc), which has a scent that most people may not like.
4. Long Lasting Relief
Unlike medications, heat therapy provides long lasting relief. Some painkillers take 10 minutes to start its analgesic effect, but last for only 2-4 hours. However, heat therapy is longer lasting (depending on the tools used). There are heat therapy patches that last 12 hours, while hot water bottles, towels, electrical heating pads might last 4-6 hours long.
When Should You Avoid Heat Therapy
Heat therapy is usually used to provide relief for anti-inflammatory pain, aches and injuries.
- If the area in pain is swollen or bruised (you should use ice to reduce the swelling)
- Consult a doctor if you have heart disease, hypertension or diabetes
- Open wound
- Dermatitis (inflammation on skin)
- Peripheral vascular disease (blood circulation disorder, causing blood vessels to narrow, block or spasm)
- Deep vein thrombosis (blood clot in the veins)
- Severe cognitive impairment (trouble remembering, learning new things, and making decisions)
We have summarised the above information into an easy-to-read infographic. [Click to zoom] Feel free to share with your friends!
Do take a look at some other ways you can relieve muscle aches in these articles: