Thermotherapy (Heat Therapy)

What is Thermotherapy (Heat Therapy)

Thermotherapy (heat therapy) is a procedure that involves the application of superficial heat to injured or damaged body parts. The heat alters tissue temperatures in targeted regions. These temperature increases make the tissues more extensible. Patients report experiencing pain relief and faster healing. That’s because this therapy technique improves blood circulation. The heat triggers vasodilatation (increasing blood flow) in the soft tissues. As a result, the tissues’ extensibility and metabolic rates also increase. The target tissues heal fast. The heat doesn’t impact surrounding areas.

Thermal therapy also accelerates tissue healing by increasing the amount of oxygen target locations receive. The increase in oxygen enables tissues to decrease the impact of destructive enzymes (e.g., collagenase). The catabolic rate of destructive enzymes increases. Overall, these effects accelerate healing, improve blood circulation, and provide pain relief to patients. From hot cloths and hot water bottles to heating pads and infrared radiation, physiotherapists use various tools to provide thermal therapy. This therapy technique is used to treat arthritis patients, rehabilitate injury victims, and provide pain relief for a variety of ailments.

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Types of Thermotherapy (Heat Therapy)

This therapy technique can be divided into two application categories - direct contact and infrared radiation.

  • Direct contact thermal therapy - Physiotherapists use items like hot water bottles, electrical heating pads, heated gel packs, or heat wraps to apply heat to injured areas. These tools are convenient for patients. They can easily wear heated gel packs or heat wraps ‎beneath their clothing and receive heat treatment for long periods.
  • Infrared radiation – Instead of direct contact, the heat is applied to injured body parts via electromagnetic radiation. Physiotherapists find this method convenient. They get to apply heat to target tissues, neuron terminals, and blood capillaries directly. The temperatures of the infrared rays are usually around 42 °C.

Risks of Thermotherapy (Heat Therapy)

This simple form of therapy is very safe, effective, and easy to execute. Technically, you can get a hot water bag and perform this therapy at home without anyone’s assistance. However, therapists can cure some conditions only by heating deeper tissues. These processes require special equipment. Carrying out such processes on your own involves the risk of skin burns and tissue damage.

Benefits of Thermotherapy (Heat Therapy)

Different people benefit in different ways from this therapy technique. The most common benefits of thermotherapy (heat therapy) include:

  • Athletes use it to re-mineralize their bodies and improve athletic performances
  • Improves mental alertness
  • Reduces accumulated stress inside muscles
  • Enables people to tackle their fatigue and take part in physical activities
  • Promotes enhanced mental health
  • Slows aging
  • Promotes healthier nutrient absorption and food digestion
  • Makes the skin more elastic and firm
  • Soothes, muscle aches/pain
  • Cleans the skin
  • Improved blood flow helps eliminate toxins from the body
  • Deeply cleanses the tissues
  • Strengthens the immune system
  • Better sleep
  • Improved physical health
  • Improves breathing

Thermotherapy (Heat Therapy) is Used to Treat What Conditions?

This cost-effective therapy technique can provide pain relief to anyone, irrespective of their conditions. Be it a slip and fall accident, high fevers, or degenerative joint disease – thermal therapy can provide relief to all types of patients. Here are some conditions this therapy technique helps treat -

  • Knee osteoarthritis – Thermal therapy improves the joint movement of patients. It also reduces swelling and improves muscle functions.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) – Helps patients regain joint strength and function.
  • Stress-Induced Hyperthermia – Thermal therapy can help hyperthermia patients. It can also help calm the body when it experiences stress-related events.
  • Chronic back pain – People suffering from chronic back pain can benefit immensely from thermal therapy. The heat activates the circulatory nerves around the damaged tissues. Increased blood flow to the back helps heal ailments faster.
  • Tennis elbow – In this condition, the patient’s elbows get severely damaged due to extensive wear and tear. Physiotherapists advise such patients to combine heat and cold therapy to get maximum pain relief.

Who Shouldn’t Have Thermotherapy (Heat Therapy)?

Physiotherapists determine whether patients are fit for receiving this therapy. Here are some people who aren’t ‎eligible for treatment using this therapy –

  • A patient who is suffering from severe external injuries
  • A patient who has severe swelling ‎or bruises on his or her skin
  • Dermatitis patients
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS) patients
  • Patients with diabetes
  • Patients with deep vein thrombosis
  • Patients with vascular diseases

How to prepare for Thermotherapy (Heat Therapy)?

Here are some simple steps patients can take to prepare for this therapy:

  • Ask the physiotherapist whether it’s okay for you to take your routine prescription medications
  • Reduce fluid intake on the day of the treatment
  • Avoid caffeinated beverages and alcohol two days prior to the procedure
  • Eat light breakfasts or lunches on the day of treatment
  • Arrive one hour before the procedure; spend this time relaxing
  • Bring a family member or friend for post-treatment transportation

Recovery: What happens after Thermotherapy (Heat Therapy)

Physiotherapists apply heat to damaged body parts for only 15 to 20 minutes. Then, they gradually allow the target tissues to recover. Recovery times for patients vary based on their health conditions. It usually takes patients 30 minutes ‎to experience significant pain relief.

Related Therapies

Here are some therapy techniques that mimic the benefits of thermotherapy (heat therapy) – cryotherapy, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation therapy (TENS), ultrasound therapy, and interferential current therapy.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can this therapy technique cure my back pain permanently?
No. You will experience instant pain relief. But, if you don’t take care of your back or your overall health, the pain will return. That’s why conducting this therapy, in addition to other physiotherapeutic treatments, is vital.
2. What are some alternative physical therapy options?
There are many similar physical therapy techniques that also provide prolonged relief to patients. Some of them include thermotherapy, TENS, and customized massages. These treatments are cost-effective and hassle-free.
3. Is this therapy expensive?
No! Thermal therapy is one of the most cost-effective and eco-friendly physiotherapy techniques. It’s easy to conduct for physiotherapists. So, they can charge less.

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