Most people have used heat at one time to sooth normal aches and pains — such as the use of a hot bath, a heating pad or even an old-fashioned water bottle.
Even today, these types of heat therapy play an important role in chiropractic practice to increase circulation and relax the muscles. At the same time, heat therapy can help reduce pain.
Types of Heat Therapy
The types of heat therapy vary, from simple methods such as the use of warm wraps and heating pads to more advanced techniques such as the use of therapeutic ultrasound. All of these, though, are designed to relax muscles and promote healing.
Some of the most common heat therapies used by chiropractors include:
- Moist heat packs. These are applied over several layers of towels to prevent burning of the skin.
- Warm whirlpool bath. This technique involves a combination of immersion in heated water and massage from water jets; this may be combined with movements in the water.
- Paraffin bath. The hands, wrists, elbows, ankles or feet are dipped in paraffin wax to soothe chronic injuries.
- Fluidotherapy. This method is a dry technique, involving the use of hot air containing cellulose particles that are circulated over the skin.
Benefits of Heat Therapy
Heat has long been used for its healing and soothing benefits. But heat therapy may provide other benefits, such as:
- Increased blood flow
- Reduced inflammation
- Relief from muscle spasms
- Decreased stiffness in joints
- Pain relief
Heat therapy can also be used before other healing therapies, including stretching, exercise, massage, and physical adjustments. The heat can increase how easily scar tissue or tight joints will move.
How Heat Therapy Works
Some muscle spasms are caused by a lack of blood flow to the tissues. Heat applied to the area can bring more blood to the tissues, along with extra oxygen and glucose needed by the cells.
Heat therapy also reduces inflammation and swelling by speeding up the activity of the cells, lowering the pH inside the cells and stimulating the release of helpful chemicals. These chemicals cause the blood vessels to widen, allowing more blood flow to the injured, inflamed or painful tissues.
Although heat therapy can improve many symptoms, some people may experience negative side effects after treatment. They may experience greater pain, achiness or stiffness. If you experience any of these symptoms, tell your chiropractor, who may suggest other treatments.