Should you or shouldn’t you use heating pads on sore muscles? What about a soak in a hot tub? Or taking a nice, steaming shower?
Whether or not you find relief in heat therapy depends on the cause of muscle soreness. If the soreness is caused by an acute injury, it’s definitely recommended NOT to use an electrical heat pack.
Effects of Heat Therapy
Just because an electrical heat pack may feel good on sore muscles does not mean it is always the right solution. It could actually lead to more pain later on if it is not the appropriate treatment.
Sometimes COLD therapy is the better and safer option.
This is because heat opens up blood vessels in the affected area, which increases blood flow. If the area is already swollen, or in the process of swelling, due to an injury, increased blood flow is the opposite of what you would want.
Using heat therapy on an inflamed area will only make the inflammation worse. If inflammation is causing the soreness, leaving a heating pad on the area will only increase and prolong the pain. It will also slow down the healing process.
When to Use Heat
So, what are electrical heat packs actually for?
Heat is typically recommended for that chronic soreness and stiffness that just won’t go away, and isn’t actually caused by an injury. If there is stiffness, rather than swelling, heat therapy is recommended.
However, even if heat does help you, you still should not use it for too long. Leaving a wrap or pad on for a prolonged period could result in a burn. It needs to be used carefully to ensure safety. Heating therapy products all come with instructions. Read them carefully and follow them.
Using Heat Therapy Safely
While not common, it’s still possible to sustain first, second, or even third degree burns if you leave a heating pad on sore muscles for too long, or at a temperature that is higher than what is recommended. Just as a sunburn might not occur immediately, a burn from a heating might not, either.
You could risk burning your skin without even realizing it - read more on safety precautions and contraindications here.
Most modern heat therapy products are designed with safety features. Electric units, for instance, typically have an automatic shutoff mechanism. Portable products are designed to stay hot for no more than two hours at a time. It’s still your responsibility, however, to read the instructions and use them carefully.
Benefits of Heating Pads
When it is used safely, and for the right reasons, a heat therapy treatment provides numerous health benefits (see all benefits here).
It helps to relieve stiffness in the muscles and joints so that you can exercise more easily. If you have a deliberating condition that makes it difficult to do certain physical tasks, the use of a heating pad on your lower back, neck and shoulders, hands, etc. will make it easier to do such tasks.
Not for Everyone:
If you have a condition such as peripheral vascular disease or diabetes, heat therapy might not be a good option for you. It would be better to seek another solution to provide you with pain relief. If you have dry skin, you will need to make sure that you only use moist heat products. Discuss the matter with your doctor if you are uncertain.