I often hear clients mention that they use a heating pad quite frequently and for long periods of time- ex:going to bed with a heating pad. Usually the client is face down on the table when they tell me this, or else they would tell you that I get a look on my face of horror! My response is, "that is TOO long."
So, let's talk heat......Is there a difference between using moist heat versus dry heat? How often should you use heat and for what length of time?
Before we talk about heat, let's just review when to use heat and cold.
The rule of thumb with cold is if an area is red, swollen, inflamed, or if it's an acute injury, meaning an injury that just occurred, we want to cool the area down and prevent any inflammation.
Moist heat helps in increasing blood flow or circulation, increasing tissue elasticity or flexibility, and it will help warm up or prepare the body part to accept the exercise/stretching or massage.
Moist heat should be used for chronic conditions such as muscle discomfort, stiffness, delivering anincreased supply of oxygen and nutrients and removing waste from sore, fatigued and injured muscles.
Using moist heat can be especially useful on a muscle spasm.
It is amazing what moist heat can do in just a matter of a few minutes. If you have ever used it then you know what I'm saying is true. The best news of all is that it's readily available at a moments notice.
Moist heat provides better pain relief than dry, since it penetrates deeper into the muscle. This is probably one of the top reasons for its popularity among those who seek pain relief.
Generally speaking, for minor pain 15 to 20 minutes of moist heat 3-4 times a day should be sufficient.
Heat Therapy Precautions-
Heat is not always appropriate for all situations. For example, you should not apply heat to a new injury that might be swollen or bruised. The heat will simply cause additional swelling and ice would be a better solution. In addition, heat should not be used if you have the following conditions: Heart disease, high blood pressure, peripheral vascular disease, deep vein thrombosis, diabetes or dermatitis. As with any form of treatment, always check with your doctor before attempting to handle the matter yourself. Chances are, he’ll give you the go ahead, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Right?
1. Press Release: Heat Halts Pain Inside The Body, University College London, July 5, 2006
2. Laurie Sweet, P.T., Outpatient Physical Therapy, Johns Hopkins HospitalAugust 18, 2008