Today’s topic revolves around the benefits of heat therapy for chronic injuries, such as chronic back pain, chronic sports injury pain, and any sort of nagging pain that are not acute.
The topic of heat therapy remains a controversial one. I’ve spent a fair amount of time reading into this and still found myself unsatisfied with the information that is out there, so whatever advice that myself or any other healthcare professional gives you in regards to this method of therapy, please take it with a pinch of salt.
In my practice, chronic back pain is a common problem and though there are numerous non-pharmacological ways of treating it, let’s focus on one of them, i.e. heat therapy. Heat therapy (e.g. heat packs, heat patches, hot water bottle, hot towel) can help relieve a stiff and painful back.1, 2 . It does this by dilating blood vessels, causing increased blood flow and oxygen to the site, which leads to a decrease in muscle spams, and as a result, this leads to a decrease in stiffness and an increase in flexibility.1, 3 Also, heat alters the sensation of pain, which results in pain reduction and an increase in pain tolerance.1, 3
Knowing the above, how do we use heat? There is some evidence to suggest that heat can be applied to the affect area(s) for up to eight hours a day.2 To be honest, no one is going to apply heat for eight hours a day so lets try to be a bit more realistic. In my opinion, I believe that you will benefit from using heat if you use it a couple of times a day for at least a good 20 minutes each session. This will definitely help improve all the above i.e. decreased stiffness, improved flexibility, decreased pain, and an increase in pain tolerance. However, please take note that you have to use it regularly to maintain these benefits. It does sound tedious but it will definitely benefit you.
On a broader scope, heat isn’t just confined to back pain. It can also be applied to other muscle groups and also affected joints of the body that are presenting with similar symptoms. One of my favourite joints to explore are the ankle joints but that is a topic for another day.
Before I conclude, please take note that heat should not be used if there are any signs of active inflammation present because it can further aggravate it. Some examples of the signs and symptoms of inflammation are redness, heat, swelling, and possibly pain.
In conclusion, there is a place for heat in the treatment of chronic pain. Although there is limited evidence to its effectiveness, there is only one way to figure out whether it works for you. Give it a go!
Created by Kw
1) National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. What Is Back Pain? Fast Facts: An Easy-to-Read Series of Publications for the Public [Internet]. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases [2014 November; cited 2016 October 1]. Available from: http://www.niams.nih.gov/HealthInfo/BackPain/backpainff.asp#g
2) BMJ Best Practice. Musculoskeletal lower back pain [Internet]. BMJ Best Practice [2014 November; cited 2016 October 1]. Available from: http://bestpractice.bmj.com.ezproxy.lib.monash.edu.au/best-practice/monograph/778/treatment/details.html
3) 1) National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Arthritis and Rheumatic Diseases [Internet]. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases [2014 October; cited 2016 October 1]. Available from: http://www.niams.nih.gov/HealthInfo/Arthritis/arthritisrheumatic.asp