There are times when heat or ice can help reduce pain and encourage healing during the body's recovery process from muscle pain or soreness. Suppose one is thinking of using a heating pad for pain relief. In that case, there are many health and safety considerations to make to ensure they aren't making the injury worse, prolonging recovery, or introducing other bodily injury risks into the equation. Below are answers to three commonly asked questions about heat application to treat muscle soreness.
How does a heating pad work to help with sore muscles?
Often after people exercise, a buildup of lactic acid occurs in the tiny blood vessels in your damaged muscles, causing them to spasm and feel painfully sore. Not only does this make it more difficult for your muscles to recover, but it also hampers circulation - as a result, you don't get the proper amount of oxygen and nutrients going to the part of your body that's experiencing muscle pain! Heat applications like heated pads or a hot bath are useful in relieving that pain because they help increase blood flow and relax those tight muscles, allowing the blood to flow into the muscles again and flush out waste products that have built up.
Heat also helps loosen muscles. When you begin to exercise, your body starts to get warm. Your body then tries to cool itself off by sweating. This process can make your muscles tighten up rather than relax, cancelling any potential muscle loosening that may have been afoot. By applying heat before the workout, you are essentially "tricking" your body into thinking it is already warm and thus getting a sort of head start."
Researchers can apply their knowledge and discoveries to understand pain better as we discover how humans experience and process sensory information. The gate theory addresses how a person's brain interprets a specific sensation that originates from somewhere in the body. For example, pain nerves relay information about your back into your spinal cord through the dorsal root ganglia when you have back pain.
The brain is then alerted that there is a problem with your back muscles, causing it to release chemicals like serotonin and norepinephrine. These substances control other neurotransmitters' levels to regulate better pain signals sent out by the central nervous system.
Suppose we are experiencing terrible muscle aches after a rigorous hike or HIIT workout. In that case, those muscles have their pain receptors activated and work full time to send constant pain signals back to the brain. When we apply heat to the area that is hurt, we activate different nerves to transmit this new, non-painful message to the brain, whose message can deaden or lessen the underlying nerve pain messages.
Is it ever ok to fall asleep while using a heating pad?
Using a microwaveable heating pad while you’re sleeping shouldn’t be your go-to sleep solution. While it can be effective under the right conditions, there are better ways to get the relief you need at night.
Falling asleep while using a heating pad should always be avoided - it can cause serious problems to your body if you aren't paying attention. Whether it's heat or ice, there is no need to fall asleep on the skin as both can cause severe disfiguring burns. While you are sleeping, your body is doing its job of recovering. The best way to achieve that is by letting the natural recovery do its job completely and not adding any additional risk by applying any heat or ice to an already damaged area. If you are in an area of extreme cold and need added heat, make sure the heating pad is covered by cloth or a towel to create a barrier between the pad and your skin!
When applying a heating pad to any body area, how long is best?
Herbal Heating pads may have a specific time frame of their use, but there are many critical factors to consider regarding their time usage. The pad must be used for the appropriate time because it can cause injury and pain if overheated or not used correctly. Also, depending on your reasons for using a heating pad, being too focused on a specific outcome might blind you from proper usage, which might prevent you from achieving your desired effects!
Though technical specifications for heating pads are not readily available, it is good to note that pain relief should continue for up to 30 minutes. Leaving a heating pad on for too long can result in the skin's swelling and redness, which indicates the presence of burn-related injuries from prolonged use!
While heating pads can play a role in helping a muscle injury to heal, they must be used with extreme care and caution. Ensure you don't fall asleep while using one and that you don't use it for too long or allow it to get too hot in one body area. It is important for safety reasons to consider these precautions before using any pad that heats intending to relieve pain. Use of the heating pad can be a helpful tool for muscle pain relief but more so if the following steps are taken:
- Don't sleep while lying on it (which has somehow become some people's favourite pastime).
- Avoid leaving it on an injured area longer than you are advised by your doctor or fitness expert.