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Heat therapy for pain relief

Superficial heat therapy has been used in pain management for decades, for treating muscular or joint pain. Many people with chronic pain use some form of heat therapy at home.

Although heat therapy is not a cure and the benefits are far from proven, it nevertheless appears to help take the edge off a range of painful conditions.

What type of pain is heat useful for?

1. Chronic pain and stiffness such as that related to osteoarthritis.

2. All over pain due to conditions such as fibromyalgia and rheumatic conditions.

3. Muscle soreness from over exertion. This is the type of pain you get after a trip to the gym if you haven’t been in a while.

When should heat therapy be avoided?

1. Over an area of infection

2. Acute pain due to injury

3. Acute arthritic flare up

Basically, any condition where the area is red/hot/swollen and painful to touch due to acute inflammation should not be heated.

How does heat therapy work?

Heat penetrates through the skin and scientists have tested this. In 1998, Draper et al heated people’s triceps muscles for 15 minutes, then used a needle probe thermometer to check the temperature. At 1cm depth, temperature was increased by 3.8 degrees Celsius, and 0.78 degrees to a depth of 3cm. This suggests superficial heating will moderately increase tissue temperature up to a couple of centimetres. By stimulating thermoreceptors in soft tissue, pain can be reduced by closing the gating system in the spinal cord (Carr & Mann, 2000).

However, adipose tissue (fat) adds thickness and is a great insulator. Therefore, any area of the body with more fat under the skin will limit the effect of superficial heating, making the area much harder to heat up.

Joints are less able to regulate their temperature than muscle tissue and can be heated more easily. Oosterveld et al, demonstrated that hot paraffin wax could raise deep knee temperatures by 1.7–3.5˚C. By warming joints, heat reduces the viscosity of synovial fluid, which alleviates painful stiffness during movement and increases joint range (Carr and Mann 2000). Hands and feet have lots of joints and a thinner anatomy, therefore being the easiest place in the body to warm up.

In addition, we associate warmth with comfort and reassurance, which has been shown to have a positive psychological and neurological effect on pain levels.

How can I use heat therapy at home?

Heating superficial tissue can be achieved using hot packs, heat wraps, wax baths for hands or feet, heated towels, saunas, steam baths/rooms.

What heat treatments are available at Ayres Health?

Warm Wax Therapy

This treatment includes intensive foot cream application to callused areas, foot and lower leg massage using heated oils followed by the application of heated paraffin wax. The wax is gently brushed onto the skin in layers and wrapped to hold the heat in. The treatment finishes with your feet in a relaxing foot warmer for 10 minutes to enhance the treatment effect.

Paraffin wax helps to soften skin whilst the heat soothes any aches & pains.

Hot stone massage/reflexology

This treatment incorporates smooth basalt stones which retain heat during the massage. The stones are heated, oil is applied to the feet and lower legs and the stones are used to warm the skin during the massage. If a reflexology treatment is requested, the stones will also be used to apply pressure to reflex points on the feet.

The treatment finishes with your feet in a relaxing foot warmer to enhance the therapeutic effect.

Both treatments are a wonderful way to relax and unwind, whilst also soothing aches and pains.

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