Melt the Pain Away: Heat Therapy
Ouch! What was that??
Have you ever been minding your own business, living your best life, and your body decides to attack you out of nowhere? Simple, everyday tasks turn into obstacles in life when our bodies are in need of attention. Here are just a few of the joyous sudden moments of pain I’ve felt recently:
Turned from my torso to grab a cup from the kitchen counter: pain in the mid-back
Stood up from crouching: crackling and pain in the knee
Put my shirt on: pain in the shoulder
Walked down the street: popping and pain in the hip
If you’re experiencing unexplained acute pain, heat can do wonders. According to the U.S. Pain Foundation, heat therapy “increases the temperature of skin and muscle, along with blood flow and metabolic processes. This improves healing and elasticity, thereby helping reduce pain.”
The benefits of heat therapy go beyond simply making you feel better - they actually reduce inflammation and help heal the affected area more quickly. Here are some of the benefits of heat therapy according to Spine-Health.com:
Speed up healing process - Increase blood circulation, oxygen & nutrients
Calm muscle spasms - Relax tense muscles, relieve restriction causing pain
Reduce stiffness - Soften tissues to increase flexibility
Increase exercise tolerance - Improve results of exercises with more limber muscles
Interrupt pain signals - Activate heat receptors to mute pain receptors
Produce relaxation chemicals - Reduce cortisol levels to reduce stress
Boost immunity - Activate immune system with “fever response”
Reduce reliance on medications - Effective alternative to drug-based treatments for pain
*DISCLAIMER:* The type of pain I’m referring to in this article is sudden, unexplained pain - this is usually the result of a flare-up of an old injury, chronic inflammation, an ongoing medication condition or regular old-age. If you have new pain, particularly from an injury, heat is NOT the answer. You need ice IMMEDIATELY, and possibly a doctor.
Moist heat is THE best treatment I’ve found for my body aches. The National Library of Medicine explains, “Moist heat modalities transfer heat much faster than do dry heat modalities and research shows that they cause much faster heat penetration than dry heat. Even air with high humidity transfers heat faster than dry air. But it is not just the type of heat but the duration as well that affects heat transfer into deep tissues.” Studies show that just 2 hours of moist heat have about the same effect as 8 hours of dry heat.
Here are some ways you can bring moist heat relief to yourself:
Heating pad - But this is dry heat, isn’t it? Yes, yes it is. However, with a little creativity, it can become moist heat! Just moisten a cloth and put it directly on your skin, then put the heating pad on top. Viola! Moist heat!
Microwave - In just a few seconds, you can make your own warm compress. Wet a towel and place it in a bowl with water - the size will vary depending on the size of the area of pain, as will the amount of time it spends in the microwave (about 30 seconds for a washcloth, 60 seconds for a hand towel, 2 mins for larger items). Be careful when you take it out! Let it sit to cool before placing on the skin.
Stovetop - If microwaves aren’t your thing, you can achieve the same results using a pot of boiling water. Just dip your towel, scoop it out with a utensil, and wring it out. You can maintain a nice warm, not-too-hot temperature to the heat using this method.
Rice Sock - Yes, you hear me right: rice sock! Put some rice in a sock. Tie it shut. Pop it in the microwave next to a cup of water for about 1 minute. Adjust the temp as needed.