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Heat Therapy Explained

Muscle pain isn’t much fun, is it? Especially if it’s become more of a regular occurrence, what with most of us still working from home with a ‘makeshift desk’, or increasing our walking, running, cycling and generally enjoying as much of the great outdoors as we possibly can. Sometimes those long term aches and pains can become wearing.

Either by sitting for hours at the desk with those looming deadlines to hit, or your stroll quickly transitions to a run and before you know it, your enthusiasm has resulted in a twinge that just won’t go away.

A range of medical conditions also cause chronic pain and stiffness which can have a detrimental effect on everyday life.

Sound familiar?

So, other than taking regular breaks to stand and move from our desks or taking our time and sensibly building up our physical activity levels; how can we treat long term stiffness, muscle aches and pains? No matter how good our intentions are, injuries can happen, so it pays to be prepared and have solutions at hand.

One of those solutions is the application of good old heat!

Heat is very effective for longer term aches, pains and sore muscles; the kind of injuries you pick up after prolonged spells of regular exercise. Unfortunately, the longer term consequences of this kind of pain can include tension, anxiety and sensitisation, so it pays to find a therapy that works for you.

How does heat therapy work on long term pain?

In simple terms heat therapy increases blood circulation which promotes healing and muscle relaxation. By gently warming the affected area with a heat pack for up to 15 minutes (or until the heat cools down) you should enjoy decreased pain levels and increased flexibility and mobility as heat stimulates the sensory receptors that block the transmission of pain signals to the brain. Interestingly, heat therapy releases endorphins which can have an opiate-like effect on pain!

Applying heat therapy (along with stretches!) prior to exercise is an excellent way to warm up the muscles and reduce stiffness. However, if heat is used incorrectly you could cause more harm than good! For example, if you suffer from poor sensation, I would advise caution as you may not have the ability to feel what is too hot or cold. Additionally, applying heat on a fresh injury can increase inflammation which may lead to more pain. This is why heat therapy is generally prescribed for longer term aches and chronic pain.

How to apply heat therapy?

It’s really easy and can be cost-effective!

● Your everyday hot water bottle can be a great source of heat therapy (as long as you use it sensibly, with a cover and heed safety precautions)

● You’ll find microwavable heat packs in most pharmacies and larger shops. Pop one into the microwave, again following instructions, and enjoy some sweet smelling relief.

● A soothing hot bath can be very restorative and offer short-term pain relief

● Heat therapy can be used by a qualified therapist as part of your physiotherapy treatment programme

As long as you remember to apply heat to older, more long term injuries and not to a fresh-off-the-pitch injury you will find it a very effective therapy. And the best thing is, it won’t cost the earth as you’ll probably already have what you need at home!

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