Heat Therapy for Back Pain
Many types of back and neck pain can be relieved through heat therapy. While it's important to talk with a doctor if you’re experiencing chronic pain, moderate pain can often be relieved through heat therapy, especially combined with ice and physical therapy.
Understanding Heat Therapy
Heat therapy can help reduce pain and inflammation in several ways.
Heat therapy works by dilating the small blood vessels and capillaries that lie near the surface of the skin. This allows blood to deliver additional nutrients and oxygen to the site of an injury. More importantly, it will help speed up the recovery process after an injury.
Heat applied to the skin stimulates specialized sensory receptors that register pain. By applying heat to these areas, it's possible to decrease the number of electrical signals these sensory receptors send to the brain.
Heat can also help relax and soften the muscles around the injury. Since most neck and back injuries involve muscle tension, it's important for the muscles to relax. Heat can help facilitate the stretching of soft tissues like muscles, adhesions and connective tissue, in addition to improving flexibility.
Starting Heat Therapy at Home
Heat therapy can be an affordable way to treat the symptoms of a spinal injury. In addition to instant relief, heat therapy is also inexpensive. The two classes of heat therapy are dry heat and wet heat.
Dry heat includes the use of electric heating pads, steam rooms, saunas and self-heating packs. While dry heat can be used throughout the day, it may dry out the skin. It's important to use skin moisturizer when applying dry heat to the skin for an extended time.
Heating pads are another great choice, but it's important to set the correct temperature. Many electric heating pads can be adjusted with a built-in thermostat. Remember to turn them off before leaving the house and before going to sleep; otherwise, you can risk overheating your body and starting appliance fires.
Moist heat includes hot baths, moist heating packs, jacuzzis and steamed towels. You can also combine moist heat with therapeutic salts and oils that promote muscle relaxation. For example, Epsom salts are commonly added to hot bathtubs to relax and soothe muscles. However, Epsom salts should not be used by anyone with kidney disease or other metabolic issues.
Heat therapy can be an effective and affordable way to reduce and pain and inflammation in a spinal injury.
Tools to get started:
- Electric or Chemical Heating Pad
- Microwavable Gel Heating Pack
- Steamed Towels
- Epsom Salts for a Hot Tub
- Drinking Water (for hydration)
It's important to limit the exposure to heat in the beginning. Some people with circulatory health issues may experience burns when applying heat to certain parts of the body. Always talk with a doctor or healthcare provider before starting any heat therapy program.