Heat Therapy for Pain

Overview

According to the American Academy of Pain Management, an estimated 50 million Americans live with chronic pain caused by disease, disorder or accident. An additional 25 million suffer from acute pain from surgery or accident. Medications alone are not always enough to provide adequate relief. Heat therapy can supplement conventional medical treatments to give patients a reprieve from pain.

How Heat Therapy Works

The application of heat temporarily increases blood circulation to the area. The increased blood flow speeds the removal of toxins from the site. In addition, it stimulates thermoreceptors; when stimulated, these receptors block the transmission of pain signals to the brain. Finally, heat relaxes muscles, which eases stiffness and improves joint mobility. All of these actions work together to provide temporary relief of aches and pains.

Benefits

Heat therapy is an inexpensive, non-invasive and effective way to relieve pain. It is easy and can be done at home. Portable heat wraps also make it possible to engage in heat therapy while at work or on the go. Heat therapy provides a natural alternative for the management of pain.

Types of Heat Therapy

There are two main types of heat therapy: superficial, when heat is applied to the outside of the body, and deep heat therapy, when heat is directed towards muscles and inner tissues. Heat packs, hot water bottles, heating pads, paraffin, hydrotherapy and moist heat products are all examples of superficial heat therapy. Ultrasound and diathermy are used for deep heat therapy. Conducting agents are used with ultrasounds to warm the areas where the ultrasound is being applied. Diathermy applies heat using an electrode drum.

Combination Treatments

Heat therapy can be used alone but is most effective when used in combination with other treatment modalities. Medications such as anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxers and pain relievers can be used to maximize pain relief. In addition, massage, physical therapy and exercise are used to condition and heal muscles.

Considerations

Certain people should not participate in heat therapy. According to the Sports Injury Clinic, there are several contraindications to heat therapy. If the patient cannot feel the area to be treated or if the patient is hyper or hypo-sensitive to heat, heat should not be applied. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT), infections and malignant tumors should not be treated with heat therapy. The increase in blood flow to the area escalates the risk of spreading the infected or cancerous cells.