Almost everyone experiences back pain at some point in their lives. Whether it stems from over exertion or strain, back pain can create tension in the muscles and soft tissue surrounding the spine. Muscle spams that occur from lower back injury can range from mild discomfort to severe pain, leaving the person unable to move normally in some cases. Heat therapy can help relieve muscle tension, stiffness and spasms.
How does Heat Therapy work?
- Heat therapy works by dialating the blood vessels of the muscles surrounding the spine, increasing the oxygen flow and nutrients to the muscles which then assists in healing the damaged tissue.
- When heat is applied to the lower back, it stimulates the sensory receptors in the epidermis, decreasing the pain signals to the brain which partially relieves the discomfort.
- Heat application also helps in stretching the soft tissue and muscles around the spine, hence increasing flexibility.
In most situations, heat therapy works best when combined with other treatments, such as physical therapy, massage, and exercise.
It is important to note that heat therapy works best at a "warm" temperature so that it penetrates into the muscle and tissue. Increasing the temperature of the skin will do little to decrease lower back pain discomfort so it is important to keep this in mind when using heat therapy.
Types of Heat Therapy: Dry vs. Moist Heat
Dry heat, such as electric heating pads and saunas, draw out moisture from the body and may leave the skin dehydrated.
Moist heat penetrates deeper into the muscle and tissue than dry heat, helping to alleviate spasms, tightness and an increase in flexibility. Hot baths, steamed towels or herbal heating pads, such as Sacksy Thyme's Herbal Heating & Cooling Sacks are some examples of excellent moist heat sources.
When to Avoid Heat Therapy:
Be advised, there are some situations that heat therapy should be avoided. For example, if the area is swollen or bruised, do not use heat therapy. Patients should consult a doctor if they have heart disease or hypertension. Heat therapy is also not suitable in persons who have:
- Deep vein thrombosis
- Peripheral vascular disease
- Open wound
- Severe cognitive impairment
As a generality, if the area is swollen or bruised, it is better to apply ice or a cold pack to reduce swelling in the area.