Heat therapy is a highly effective way to treat strains and muscle injuries. In fact, it can even help prevent injuries before a workout. Some of the benefits of heat therapy include pain relief, relieving muscle tension, and promoting healing of an injured muscle.
As good as heat is, it is not always the most appropriate treatment for all injuries. Let’s explore when to use heat to treat an injury and the right way to apply heat therapy.
Why Heat Therapy Works for Strains
Heat can increase the local temperature of the tissue, and this can lead to the dilation of blood vessels and an increase in blood flow to the area. When blood flow is increased, so is the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the injured tissue. This is necessary for healing of a strained muscle. In addition to this, heat also assists in the removal of waste products and toxins, which results in reduced inflammation and healing stimulation. Heat can also have a very relaxing effect, as it loosens tight muscles and helps in reducing muscle spasms. The high temperature can also help reduce the perception of pain signals.
Heat therapy can be beneficial for neck and back pain, arthritis pain, and acute muscle soreness from overexertion.
How to Apply Heat Therapy at Home
There is a right way to apply heat to reap its full benefits. Consider the following:
Moist Heat vs. Dry Heat
Heat therapy can be applied using moist or dry heat. Moist heat is believed to penetrate the muscles more effectively than dry heat. You can use a moist heating pad, warm damp towels, or take a warm bath or shower to apply moist heat. For dry heat, options include heating pads, heated gel packs, or heat wraps.
To apply heat therapy using a warm compress, soak a clean cloth in warm water and wring out the excess. Place the warm compress on the strained area for 15-20 minutes.
If using a heating pad, set it to a comfortable temperature and apply it directly to the affected area. Ensure that you place a thin cloth or towel between the heating pad and your skin to avoid burns.
Hot Water Bottle
A hot water bottle can also be used for heat therapy. Fill the bottle with hot water (not boiling) and wrap it in a cloth. Apply it to the strained area for relief.
Warm Bath or Shower
Taking a warm bath or shower can provide overall relaxation and heat therapy to the affected muscles. Allow the warm water to flow directly onto the strained area for several minutes, or a 30-minute soak in a tub can also provide relief.
How Long Should You Apply Heat Therapy?
The duration of heat therapy application depends on the individual’s comfort level and the type of heat source being used. In general, heat therapy can be applied for 15-20 minutes at a time. It is essential to allow the skin to cool down between heat therapy sessions. You can repeat heat therapy several times a day, with breaks of at least one hour in between applications.
Heat is not always a good idea for all injuries. Avoid heat if:
The Area is Swollen or Inflamed
Do not apply heat therapy to an acute injury that is swollen or inflamed, as it can exacerbate swelling and delay healing. Heat should not be applied within the first 72 hours of an injury. In such cases, cold therapy is more appropriate initially to reduce inflammation.
The Strain is Severe
If your strain is severe, it usually causes severe pain and is preceded by a loud pop. In the case of a severe strain, it is best to consult a healthcare provider for appropriate evaluation of your injury and guidance on treatment.
Treatment for Strains in Hartford County, CT & Springfield, MA
If your muscle injury from sports or exercise continues to cause pain, consult our sports medicine doctors at Advanced Orthopedics New England. We are highly experienced in treating injured athletes and weekend warriors and can determine the most appropriate and effective Sports medicine doctors.
To schedule an appointment, call our office today at (860) 728-6740 or use our convenient online request form.