Heat therapy is preferred over cold therapy to relieve aches, pains and some cases of muscle or joint damage. Basic heat therapy, also known as thermotherapy, involves the use either of a hot water bottle, pads that are heated in a microwave or a warm bath.
Applying heat to an inflamed area causes the blood vessels to dilate. This promotes blood flow that helps sore and tightened muscles relax. Improved circulation eliminates the buildup of lactic acid waste which occurs after some types of exercise. Heat is also psychologically reassuring, which can enhance its analgesic properties. In cases where injuries need to be treated locally, one can use a gel pack that is heated in a microwave.
Is there a single product that is best for all types of heat therapy? We think there is, and, in this article, we will show you which product it is and why it works best.
The difference between heat therapy and cold therapy:
Before we proceed, it is important to identify whether a specific injury requires ice or heat. If used incorrectly, heat can significantly worsen the inflammation and the misuse of ice can also aggravate symptoms of tightness and stiffness and even worsen the pain in the process. Let us learn the difference between using ice therapy and heat therapy.
Cold therapy, or cryotherapy, makes use of cold bottles of water, a pad cooled in the freezer or a cool water bath. Generally speaking, ice is used on fresh injuries where tissues become swollen and inflamed. Cold treatment helps in reducing blood flow to an injured area. This slows the rate of inflammation and reduces the risk of further swelling and tissue damage. It also numbs sore tissues, acting as a local anesthetic, and slows down the pain messages being transmitted from the nerves to the brain. Ice treats swollen and inflamed joints or muscles. Cold therapy is most effective within 48 hours of an injury. Resting, icing, compression and elevation (the RICE method) are standard treatments for sports injuries. But it is also important to remember that ice should not normally be applied directly to the skin
Heat therapy is used for long-term chronic pain, especially on the lower back. It is also used on stiff joints and aching muscles. Heat therapy is usually more effective than cold at treating chronic muscle pain or sore joints caused by arthritis.
There are several methods in applying heat therapy. One such method is using safe heating devices to the affected area. These heating devices include electrical heating pads, hot water bottles, a hot compress or a heat wrap.
Another method is soaking the area in a hot bath, between 92 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit (33 and 37.7 degrees Celsius). One can also seek heated paraffin wax treatment or medications such as rubs or patches containing capsicum.
Finally, there are dry pads or moist thermal packs that can be applied to an ailing area of the body. Dry heat pads can be applied on target areas for up to eight hours, while moist heat can be used for two hours. . Single-use wraps, dry wraps, and patches can sometimes be used continuously for up to 8 hours. Using heat should normally be applied to the area for 20 minutes, up to three times a day, unless advised against by a medical professional
In 2006, a team of researchers found that patients with lower back pain who exercised and used continuous low-level heat wrap therapy (CLHT) experienced less pain than those who exercised and did not use CLHT. Previous studies had also shown that CLHT relieved pain in some patients more effectively than oral analgesics, acetaminophen and ibuprofen. However, the effectiveness of heat treatment still depends on the depth of the tissue affected by the pain or injury.
Some people use heat treatment, often in the form of a hot bath, to prevent delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Although there is some evidence that this might help, applying heat for only five to 20 minutes may be less effective, as it has a lesser chance to impact the deeper levels of tissue. Some researchers have suggested that moist chemical heat packs, which can be used for two hours, may be the best way to prevent DOMS through heat treatment.
When not to use heat therapy
Heat is not suitable for treating all injury types. Any injury that is already hot will not benefit from further warming. These include infections, burns or fresh sprains. Heat should not be used if the skin is hot, red or inflamed. It should also not be used on patients with dermatitis or open wounds. It is not advisable if the area is numb or the patient is insensitive to heat due to peripheral neuropathy or a similar condition. We recommend seeking help from a doctor first before using heat on a patient who has high blood pressure or heart disease.
The best gel packs for heat therapy
Now that we know when to apply heat therapy, let us now learn about gel packs. A good gel pack is multi-functional and versatile – they can be strapped to or formed over most any part of the body for complete relief and treatment. Gel packs can be heated in a microwave for thermal treatments, like the ones we described earlier, and they can be made frozen for ice treatments. So, if you’re suffering from recurring conditions like arthritis and need to alternate hot and cold therapy on a regular basis, then we recommend using a couple of reusable gel packs. The best gel packs for microwaves should be durable, reusable and versatile products which can be used as a cold compress or hot compress.
Got a question or anything I can help with? My name is Steve Stretton, and I’m the owner and manager at Gelpacks.com. You can drop me a line here. Good luck!