Most of us intuitively understand how heat therapy can help with pain. If you’re struggling with stiff, achy muscles then a nice warm bath is a simple solution. If you’ve got a stiff neck or a sore back then you might have tried a hot compress or a heat pad as a quick remedy.
How Heat Therapy Works
Heat therapy works because heat helps to improve blood flow to the damaged area. This can help to carry toxins away and bring nutrients to damaged areas of the body which promotes tissue repair. Heat also stimulates your nerves, and when you are feeling ‘warmth’ that means that you’re devoting less of your brain to ‘feeling pain’ instead.
Heat therapy is often used to manage arthritis and other forms of long-term pain. It can help to ease stiffness and reduce aches and pains, improving someone’s quality of life when they are struggling with chronic pain.1
Simple Heat Treatments for Aches and Pains
Heat therapy is a great way of managing general aches and pains, and you can use it as a part of day-to-day self-care:
– Stiff hands or aching feet? Use warm paraffin treatments to soothe small joint pains.
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– Treat back pain or other injuries with heat pads.
When to Use Heat Therapy
As a general rule, if an injury is new then you should follow the PRICE protocol (Protect, Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). If an injury is older or you are coping with more long-lasting pain then you should look to heat therapy to promote more rapid healing and to relieve pain and stiffness. Heat therapy is thought to be useful for promoting day to day recovery from workouts as well.2
Coping With Pain
Pain can come from many different sources and it may well be that you need to find several ways to cope with it, depending on how severe it is and how long it lasts. Heat therapies are just one option for pain management. Some types of pain may benefit from cold therapy instead of heat therapy, and you may find that massage, foam rolling, aromatherapy, acupuncture, or other treatments could help as well.3 Talk to your doctor to learn more about the options that are open to you, and what might work for your condition.
Try to stay mobile as much as possible, especially once the immediate acute period of the injury has passed. Staying mobile will stop the joints/muscles from becoming stiff, and will help to maintain strength so that you are not at increased risk of an injury in the future. Heat can help to promote flexibility, which makes it easier to move as well and can be important if you are dealing with issues such as back pain. Start the day with a warm shower and you should find that you are better able to move around and to maintain good posture.
One thing that a lot of people overlook is sleep. While heat therapy can help to promote blood flow and tissue repair, you still need to get enough rest to allow the body to heal. If you’re kept awake at night by your pain, then try soaking in a nice warm bath and enjoying the Sleepy blend just before bedtime, then read a paper book for a few minutes and head to bed. Limit screen time before bed and avoid caffeinated beverages. This will help you to doze off properly and ensure that you get the rest that you need.
Heat Packs and Massagers
If you are suffering from a smaller injury such as a sore shoulder, neck or wrist, or a damaged ankle, then once the injury is old enough to benefit from heat treatments you may want to try using a small heat pack or heat pad. You can us passive gel packs that have been warmed in the microwave or in boiling water (be sure to check the instructions and follow them carefully), or you can use an electric heat pad that works just like a small electric blanket. Drape this over the sore area and enjoy the soothing effect of the heat.4
Heat works both to reduce pain in the short term and promote healing in the longer term but it is not always a miracle cure. If you are injured or in pain and find that you are not getting better after a few days or a week of self-care, then you should seek advice. You may need physiotherapy, or have some underlying problem that is causing the pain. The sooner you know the cause, the easier it is to treat the issue and the better the chances of making a full recovery.
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