What is heat therapy?

Heat Therapy
Jump to

Cold and heat therapies: Overview

Cold and heat therapies are treatments that use cold or heat to help with pain, soreness, muscle spasms, swelling, and inflammation. There are different ways you can do cold and heat therapies. For example, you might use an ice pack for cold therapy or an electric heating pad for heat therapy.

Most people like to use cold therapy for the first few days after a procedure or surgery. And they often use it right away after an injury, such as a sprain or strain. They also tend to use cold for swelling or inflammation. Some people prefer to use heat for muscle spasms.

Either cold or heat therapy may help with arthritis pain, cancer pain, low back pain, or soreness after exercise. Try both and see what works best for you. You might also try switching between cold and heat.

If you had a procedure or surgery, talk to your doctor about which therapy they recommend.

Be careful when using cold and heat therapies

Avoid using cold and heat therapies:

  • On broken skin.
  • While you are sleeping.
  • On your belly if you are pregnant.
  • On an area where you have poor blood flow or numbness.
  • Directly on your skin. Place a thin cloth between your skin and the cold or heat pack.

One way to safely use cold and heat therapies is to use them 10 to 20 minutes at a time, several times a day.

Why is heat therapy done?

Experts disagree about the use of heat after an injury. Some experts:

  • Do not recommend using heat because it may increase swelling, especially in the first few hours right after the injury. If you decide to use heat and you notice that the swelling increases, stop using heat and return to cold treatments.
  • Think heat speeds healing. Heat applied after an injury may help restore and maintain flexibility.
    • You can use a hot water bottle, a heating pad set on low, or a damp, heated towel.
    • Do not apply heat to an injury sooner than 48 hours after the injury.
    • To avoid burning your skin, do not use anything that feels too warm.
  • Think it is best to alternate between heat and cold treatments.

If you have diabetes or have areas of chronic numbness, do not use heat unless your doctor has told you to do so. Lack of feeling in the area could cause a burn.

Using heat for pain relief

Using heat may help relieve pain or muscle spasm.

  • Apply heat to the injured or sore area.
    • Apply heat for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Moist heat (hot packs, baths, or showers) works better than dry heat.
    • Try an all-day heat wrap, which is available in drugstores.
  • Always keep a cloth between your skin and the heat source.

    Be careful to not burn your skin. Do not apply heat directly to the skin.

©2011-2024 Healthwise, Incorporated

The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.