Heat Therapy

Heat treatment is used as a therapy for many sports related musculoskeletal injuries. There are many forms of heat treatment, with the most effective often depending on the injury in question. Time scale is also an important factor when deciding whether to use heat therapy.

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 injuy 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
  • DVT
  • Infections
  • Malignant tumours

Most of these are due to the massive increase in blood flow to the area. With conditons such as infection or malignant tumours, heat would increase the risk of spreading the infected or cancerous cells in the much increased blood flow.

Read more on:

Cold Therapy P.R.I.C.E. Principles

The PRICE principles are the gold standard set for treating acute sports injuries. The acronym stands for Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.

Hot vs Cold Therapy

There is often confusion following an injury concerning whether to apply cold therapy or whether to warm the area. The answer depends on the type of injury you have sustained.

Effects of Cryotherapy

Cold therapy or cryotherapy has a number of effects on the body both immediately after injury and later in the rehabilitation process.

Cryotherapy Contraindications

A contraindication to cold therapy is an injury or condition that would make applying cold therapy to a sports injury dangerous.