By Vert Mooney, MD
Blood Vessel Dilation
Heat therapy can affect the circulatory system by dilating blood vessels. This increases your body's ability to provide oxygen to all of its parts, and can be very beneficial to the healing processes of damaged tissue--increased oxygen flow also provides a surplus of energy, promoting a more rapid regeneration and healing process than your tissues might otherwise experience. The downside to heat therapy is that it can be dangerous to individuals with circulatory or heart problems, since changes in the size of your blood vessels and blood flow can be a potential health risk.
Heat therapy can provide some amount of pain relief by stimulating the sensory receptors in your skin. Heat can decrease the frequency and amount of pain signals sent to the brain, providing temporary pain relief. This is very beneficial to muscular or skeletal injuries that will heal over time. In addition to the increased blood flow to the areas, pain reduction can also make the injury easier to deal with, particularly if it is necessary to your daily routine or if you are competing in a sport.
Motility and Flexibility
For many athletes--particularly those dealing with tender or strained muscles--warming up is key. This is most commonly done through stretching, but it can also be achieved through heat therapy. Heat treatments allow soft tissues to move with more freedom and a reduced risk of injury, and also creates a sense of comfort in those locations. For this type of treatment, heat therapy is usually regional and focused on a particular area rather than applied to the entire body. It can be very effective in limbering up the back and increasing flexibility in muscle groups.
Medical uses of localised heat therapy
Heat therapy via a heat pack delivers low-cost, safe and controlled heat over a fixed duration. Heat packs can easily be sterilised and re-used multiple times.
- Active Treatment – instant relief for patients with cold extremities, back pain, stiff neck/shoulders, menstrual cramps, arthritis, muscle damage
- Physiotherapy – guaranteed temperature and warming time, can be applied by nursing staff at patient’s bedside even when physiotherapist is away
- Maternity – heat applied to the sides of the breast helps start the flow of milk in new mothers. Can also relieve lower back pain during labour
- Pediatrics – can be used as emergency heat source during incubator transport
- Geriatrics – can warm patients with no risk of burns or long-term over-heating
- Recovery Room - treats hypothermia associated with anaesthesia and IV infusion, can help with infusing viscous IVs
- Chemotherapy – can help bring up veins and warm up patient
- Staff – can be used by staff to treat minor ailments without having to stop work