Heat treatment is used as a therapy for many sports-related musculoskeletal injuries. Here we explain when and how to use heat for treating sports injuries.
What are the benefits of heat?
Heat acts to:
- Reduce pain
- Reduce stiffness
- Decrease muscle spasm
- Increase blood flow to the area which promotes healing
When should I use heat treatments?
Heat therapy should be used on chronic injuries and late-stage acute injuries. A chronic injury is one that has persisted for a length of time and is usually due to overuse and biomechanical issues, as opposed to a traumatic incident. Heat can be used before exercise to warm the muscles but should be avoided after exercise.
At home, the easiest way of applying heat to an injury is by using a widely available heat pack. These can be made of varying materials, often gel or wheat based which either require heating in a microwave or submerging in hot water. Wrapping such an item in a towel and applying it to the injury is perfectly suitable. This should be applied be 15-20 minutes at a time. Warm, damp towels, warm baths, and heat rubs can also be easily used at home although may not be as effective at warming deeper tissues.
What are the contraindications to using heat?
The following are contraindications (times when heat treatment is not suitable) which apply to heat therapy:
- Sensory changes (cannot feel if it is too hot)
- Heat injury
- Hyper or hypo-sensitive to heat
- Circulatory problems
- During the acute phase of injury
- Malignant tumours
Most of these are due to the massive increase in blood flow to the area. With conditions such as infection or malignant tumours, heat would increase the risk of spreading the infected or cancerous cells in the much-increased blood flow.