22 Mar Heat therapy for pain
A question that osteopaths frequently hear is whether to use ice or heat treatment to help manage pain. The answer will always be dependent on the patient and the type of injury or pain that they are experiencing. The general rule of thumb is to use ice for acute injuries, pain, inflammation and swelling, whilst using heat for muscle pain or stiffness. Treating pain with hot and cold therapy can be extremely effective for a number of different conditions and injuries, and it is affordable. The difficult part is knowing what situations calls for hot, and what calls for cold.
This blog discusses the application and benefits or heat therapy.
Heat therapy works by increasing the temperature of the affected area to improve the circulation and blood flow to that area. Heat therapy is used to increase muscle flexibility, sooth discomfort, relax the pain muscles and heal damaged tissue.
There are 2 types of heat therapy that can be used at home, dry heat and moist heat, both these forms of therapy aim for an ideal temperature that is warm to the touch instead of hot.
Dry heat otherwise known as conducted heat therapy utilises heating pads, dry heating packs, or sauna, and is easy to apply.
Moist heat or convection heat is applied via the use of steamed towels, moist heating packs, or hot baths. This form of heat therapy may be slightly more effective as well as require shorter application period for the same results.
Professional heat therapy treatments such as heat from an ultrasound (which can be used to relieve tendonitis pain) can also be used, when administered by a healthcare professional.
When applying heat therapy, you can choose to use local, regional, or whole body treatment.
Local therapy is best for small areas of pain, like a stiff muscle. You could use small, heated gel packs or a hot water bottle if you only want to treat an injury locally.
Regional treatment is best for more widespread pain or stiffness, and could be achieved with a steamed towel, large heating pad, or heat wraps.
Full body treatment would include options such as a sauna or a hot bath.
Heat therapy may not always be the best option, if the affected area is either bruised or swollen it may be better to use cold therapy. Heat therapy should also not be applied to an area with an open wound.
People with the following pre-existing conditions should not use heat therapy due to higher risk of burns or complications:
- vascular diseases
- deep vein thrombosis
- multiple sclerosis
If you have either heart disease or hypertension or are pregnant please seek your GPs advice before using heat therapy. Pregnant women are generally advise against using saunas or hot tubs, please consult your OB before deciding to use them.
For maximum benefits heat therapy should be use for a decent amount of time.
Minor stiffness or tension may be relieved by 15 to 20 minutes of heat therapy.
Moderate to severe pain can benefit from longer sessions of heat therapy such as warm bath, which lasts between 30 minutes and two hours.
If after a few days of heat therapy, you don’t have any improvement, consult your GP or osteopath to discuss other treatment options.
Osteopathy is a complimentary form of treatment that can be used alongside other forms of treatment such as physiotherapy. At OsteoVision, our musculoskeletal specialists are trained to treat a wide range of conditions. Please contact us if you would like to discuss your symptoms, would like to book an appointment, or require more information about pain management or heat therapy. We offer various additional treatments such as Shockwave therapy and ultrasound that may be of benefit to you. Our team is always on hand and happy to assist you.
Call: 03303 904 300
You can also book an appointment online at www.osteovision.life
Callahan, M., 2020. Should I be using heat or ice treatment for my pain? – East Gippsland Osteopathic Clinic. [online] East Gippsland Osteopathic Clinic. Available at:
Marcin, J., 2019. Treating Pain with Heat and Cold. [online] Healthline. Available at: