Common steps and sub-activities
Heat therapy, also called thermotherapy, is the use of heat for pain relief and for healing disease, injury or illness.
Heat therapy has been used, for example, for muscle spasms, myalgia, fibromyalgia, contracture, and bursitis.
It has been used on abscesses to help drain the abscess faster. It appears to be very effective at helping those with low back pain.
Heat is used to loosen up the joints and muscles of those with sports injuries or arthritis, but may also be used to heal skin conditions or injuries to the deep tissue of the skin. Heat may be an effective self-care treatment for conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.
Heat therapy has been effective in treating headaches. A ‘heat collar’ or microwaveable pad placed round the neck, provides support for the neck, thus relieving tense muscles and opens the blood vessels to allow more oxygen to reach the brain. Headaches are often caused by hypoxia resulting from tensed muscles, or from poor environmental conditions. Many people who suffer from chronic headaches also suffer from tight muscles in their neck and upper back. The application of constant heat to the back/upper back area can help to release the tension associated with headache pain.
One of the most interesting areas in which the use of heat appears to be especially useful is in directly combatting the causes of disease. Thus it has been tried against parasites, viruses, bacteria and fungi. A study from 2005 showed heat therapy to be effective in treating leishmaniasis, a tropical parasitic skin infection.
Cancer is caused by parasites, viruses, bacteria, fungi and toxins. Whilst heat cannot tackle cancer caused by toxins, as there is nothing to ‘kill’, evidence is growing that many pathogens are very susceptible to heat. This is why the body induces a fever when it is attacked by pathogens, heat can kill them. As such a growing body of researchers are examining the possibility of treating some pathogen caused cancers by heat treatment, avoiding the need for chemotherapy or any pharmaceuticals.
There are many different options for applying the heat – many of them inexpensive and perfectly capable of being used at home. They are sometimes classified into whether it is ‘dry heat’ – like an electric blanket, or ‘wet heat’ like a hot bath. Examples include:
- Hot cloths and towels
- Hot water bottles
- Heating pads
- Heat collars
- Body wraps e g shoulder wraps or back wrap, for targeted heat therapy
- Electric wraps and blankets
- Hot and whirlpool baths
- Infra-red lamps
- Turkish baths
- Being in the sun
How it works
Heat relaxes, it is the opposite of cold which is a threat and a stressor of the body, heat is not only not a threat it heals by relaxing the muscles and the mind, as well as helping the immune system to start to work. If the body is warm, the heart does not have to work so hard, so it eases the strain on those with weak hearts. Heat has a vasodilatory effect and thus helps the body to transmit immunological protect and repair material to the site of injury.
The therapeutic effects of heat include increasing the extensibility of collagen tissues; decreasing joint stiffness; reducing pain; relieving muscle spasms; reducing inflammation, and oedema; aiding in the post-acute phase of healing; and increasing blood flow. The increased blood flow to the affected area provides proteins, nutrients, and oxygen for better healing…….recent studies indicate that vasodilation, the expansion of the blood capillaries (vessels) to allow more blood flow, is improved with … heat therapy.
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- Effects of single low-temperature sauna bathing in patients with severe motor and intellectual disabilities
- Efficacy of regular sauna bathing for chronic tension-type headache: a randomized controlled study
- Efficacy of thermotherapy to treat cutaneous leishmaniasis caused by Leishmania tropica in Kabul, Afghanistan: a randomized, controlled trial
- Fighting fire with fire: the revival of thermotherapy for gliomas
- Fighting off bugs by sweating
- Heat therapy for cancer
- How to Apply Heat Therapy for Your Sciatica Symptoms - Dr Andrew Moeller
- Passive body heating improves sleep patterns in female patients with fibromyalgia
- Sweating as the first line of defence against pathogens
- Treating acute low back pain with continuous low-level heat wrap therapy and/or exercise: a randomized controlled trial
- Whole body hyperthermia in pain therapy. A controlled trial on patients with fibromyalgia