Man’s discovery of fire sparked a revolution. From generating warmth to survive the harsh winter, to making an elaborate feast, we continue to explore how this vital tool can change our lives.
Ancient Greeks and Egyptians were the first to use heat for therapy, utilizing the sun’s rays for thermal and mud baths to alleviate various conditions. The use of vapor baths to cure fever, arthritis and rheumatism are attributed to Native Americans.
Thermotherapy, or the use of heat for injury treatment, continues to this day and is highly sought as a natural relief to chronic pain.
How does heat therapy treat your sore back or strained muscles? Read on below as we unpack the nine best and safest ways to use a heated gel pack for treating injuries.
How does heat therapy work?
Ever wonder what is so calming about a warm fire on a cold winter’s night? According to “pain expert” Professor Lorimer Moseley of the University of South Australia, things that produce warmth provide us a sense of comfort and safety. This may indicate why we are so inclined to use heat therapy to reduce pain.
“To reduce pain, we need to reduce credible evidence of danger and increase credible evidence of safety,” Moseley says. According to Moseley, an increase of a few degrees in temperature triggers a reassuring feeling in our brains. This, in return, elicits an analgesic effect.
When applied to an affected area of our body, a warm gel pack increases blood flow and nutrients that can relieve pain. The warmth coming from it relaxes lactic acid buildup in the muscles — the culprit for discomfort and soreness.
Apart from dilating blood vessels and increasing blood flow, warm gel packs deliver needed nutrients and oxygen to the cells, aiding in the removal of cell waste for faster healing.
The Best uses for a warm gel pack
Heat therapy works best for predominantly dull and persistent pains due to cramping, stiffness and sensitivity, such as muscle soreness and pain in specific areas.
As such, the following conditions are best treated with a warm gel pack:
1. Back pain
Hot compress is best for back pains. Muscle tension is usually the culprit for back pains, and the inflamed tissue that lies underneath is better treated with heat.
2. Before exercise
A warm gel pack improves joint elasticity and eases muscle tension. Before lifting weights or engaging in physical activities that trigger chronic pain, it is recommended to apply a warm gel pack on a specific problem area. This warms up the muscles and helps prevent stiffness.
Warm gel packs and warm baths can help relieve the overall painful sensation caused by this condition.
4. Knee Pain
A warm gel pack is best for chronic knee pain because it can wrap snugly around the affected area. The heat can penetrate tissues that traditional heat pads cannot reach.
5. Muscle spasms related to neck pains and headaches
In neck pains associated with stiffness, chronic pain and muscle soreness, heat therapy works best. Apart from massage and stretching, a warm gel pack may reduce muscular spasms by increasing blood flow in and around the affected area.
Joint pains caused by worn down cartilage can be alleviated by a warm gel pack. Most experts, however, recommend alternating hot and cold compress for best results.
7. Rheumatoid Arthritis
While acknowledged for its natural analgesic properties, heat therapy cannot prevent existing conditions. For instance, it cannot prevent rheumatoid arthritis flare-ups, but applying a warm gel pack on the joints can reduce pain and swelling.
8. Shoulder Pain
After a session of RICE therapy and the swelling from the injury has subsided, heat therapy is recommended to increase blood flow and promote faster healing. For chronic pain, you can apply a hot compress at the onset of the problem. This versatile and flexible warm gel pack may be placed on the shoulder and other parts of the body.
9. Sprains and Strains
Stretching or tearing ligaments causes painful sprains, and these could be manifested by swelling, pain, discomfort and difficulties in moving the damaged joint of a limb. Meanwhile, strains happen when a person overexerts a muscle or a tendon.
For these types of problems, a flexible and reusable warm gel pack works best because it can be placed on various parts of the body, including common problem areas such as legs, shoulders, ankles and lower back.
Where to buy the best warm gel packs
Reusable gel packs are easily available online and in most pharmacies. Unlike warm towels that could burn your skin, warm gel packs are safe and convenient to use.
How to heat gel packs
Reusable warm gel packs are easy to use. Just put the pack in the microwave oven or boiling water. Check the temperature and make sure that it will not burn your skin. Insert it in the sleeve after a few minutes and place it firmly on the injured area of your body. Do not place the gel pack directly on skin to avoid burns; place a towel over the target area before using the heated gel pack. Apply extra compression by using elastic bands.
Hot (or cold) compress should not be used for over 20 minutes in order to avoid skin burns.
The ideal temperature for a warm gel pack
Gel packs should be warm and not scalding. Experts suggest the ideal temperature to be at 100 degree Fahrenheit for babies, 105 for children, and 120 for adults. For heated eye compresses, the temperature should be adjusted to 105 degrees Fahrenheit.
Heat therapy may be used for a good amount of time. But. like cold therapy, each application should be limited from 15 to 20 minutes.
There are some safety considerations you should heed when applying a warm gel pack to your skin.
Having your skin darken or become pink is normal. What is not normal is when your skin displays a dark red or purplish red color, or if you develop hives, blisters or increased swelling. In these instances, it is best to call a doctor. These indications suggest skin damage because of extreme temperature.
It is best to check your skin every five minutes to see how your body is responding to the heat from the gel pack. Discontinue treatment once abnormal changes are observed.
While adverse reactions are rare, the use of hot compress does have limitations. For instance, it should not be used for bruised or swollen injuries or on open wounds and infections.
Persons with diabetes, heart conditions, dermatitis, vascular diseases, deep vein thrombosis or multiple sclerosis are discouraged from using heat therapy.
No matter how tempting it is, do not lie on a hot pack or apply heat when going to sleep to avoid prolonged contact that may burn your skin.
Reusable warm gel packs offer natural relief to various forms of pain and minor injuries. Your best choice of high quality gel packs that can be used either warm or cold, and on various parts of the body, are available online.
If you have these at home, what else do you need to ease your discomfort?
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