Heat Therapy and Pain Management

If you have chronic pain and receive massage regularly, chances are that at some point, your therapist has used some form of heat therapy on you to make you feel even better. Heat therapy is an amazing tool for massage therapists and other body workers to have at our finger tips, and we often recommend that clients use it at home, whether or not we use it in the session. But why? What exactly is heat therapy, and how is it an aid in pain management? I realize that a lot of the time, professionals perform different techniques, but don’t really explain in depth why they’re useful. So here it is! All about heat therapy and why you need it.



Image by Venture Heat



There are two types of heat therapy, dry heat and moist heat. Dry heat can draw moisture from the skin, and comes in the form of things like heating pads or saunas. Moist heat tends to provide better pain relief, as the moisture aids the heat in the penetration of the muscles, and doesn’t dry the skin. Moist heat includes a hot bath or steamed towels, which are popular in massage practices.



Heat opens up your blood vessels, allowing blood to flow and carry oxygen and nutrients to the body’s cells. The increase nutrient intake by the cell allows for quicker healing. Heat also relaxes you muscles, thereby decreasing spasms, cramps, and pain. This can give the muscle more flexibility, and thus a wider range of motion.



The most effective forms of heat therapy are the ones that can maintain a warm temperature long enough for the treatment to be effective. It usually takes heat therapy at least fifteen minutes to be effective, but may take longer for serious issues.



Image by Spa Business



It is important that you know that “heat therapy” does not mean “hot.” The temperature of the mechanism you are using should be warm to the touch, but should not burn your skin or cause you discomfort. You should not use heat therapy for more than 20 minutes, unless so instructed by your doctor, or other health care professional trained in this area. Do not use heat therapy over swollen areas, or over open wounds or stitches.

Do not use heat therapy if you have any of the following pathologies:

  • Diabetes
  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • Dermatitis
  • Peripheral vascular disease
  • Severe cognitive impairment


If you’re interested in using heat therapy during a massage, ask your therapist! Chances are she has the means to at least use hot towels. If you feel the need to use heat therapy at home, speak with your primary care physician, as she can instruct you on the proper way to use heat therapy. If you do use heat therapy at home, please be safe!




How to Apply Heat Therapy by Vert Mooney, MD

When To Use Hot and Cold Therapy by University of Rochester Medical Center


About Tonya Sapiel, LMT

My goal with The Wellness Seeker blog is to educate the general public on the benefits of massage therapy, why it is an important addition to their health care routine, and what they can do to help themselves in between their massage therapy sessions. I welcome feedback and questions. I also accept requests for post topics. For more information about me or my practice, please visit www.tonyasapiel.massagetherapy.com

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