Moist Heat Therapy for Pain
MOIST HEAT THERAPY
For centuries, the ability of heat to increase blood flow and ease the sensation of pain has had an important role in managing pain and supporting the healing process.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
When warm moist heat is applied to an injury, it dilates the capillaries (tiny blood vessels) in the affected area, increasing blood flow, which nourishes the tissues with essential nutrients and oxygen to accelerate the healing process. Heat also temporarily reduces pain in an injured area and helps reduce muscle spasm.
GETTING HEAT TO THE INJURED AREA
Heat can be generated and delivered to the affected area in a number of ways. While heating pads, hot packs and hot water bottles are frequently used, they can “cook” tissue and cause harm. Moist heat is the best choice for the treatment of a superficial injury because it reaches deeper into the affected area than dry heat methods. Moist heat is a therapeutic heat therapy that penetrates between 1 to 5 mm below the skin’s surface. (In comparison Ultrasound Therapy can raise the temperature of the affected tissue 5 cm below the skin surface and is a deep heat therapy usually reserved for more severe musculo-skeletal injuries).
Remember, heat must be used with caution, as it increases the chance of small capillaries leaking blood and plasma into soft tissues (petechia) around the injury. While dilation of the blood vessels and increased blood flow are desirable for healing, capillary leakage is not, as it leads to greater fluid accumulation and swelling, which retards the healing process.
To be beneficial, heat should not be applied until the capillaries have had a chance to seal and stop leaking, usually 48 hours following an injury.
IN OUR OFFICE
The therapeutic moist heat pack is stored in water at 155 degrees Fahrenheit. When applied to the treatment area, it is wrapped in a special towel and is at that point approximately 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Moist heat is adjusted according to the patient’s tolerance and sensitivity to heat. The skin on the affected area should turn a bright pink when the proper level of circulation has been reached, which is usually after 10 to 20 minutes of heat application. Moist heat is beneficial in that it increases circulation and nutrients, facilitates the removal of cellular by-products and relieves tight muscles.