Heat treatment uses heat put on your skin to help prevent and treat stiffness and pain.
You can use heat to help relax tight muscles and loosen stiff joints before exercise. For example, you may put moist hot packs on tight leg muscles before running, or on your shoulder before throwing.
Heat may also help relieve painful muscle spasms or chronic pain.
Don’t use heat in the first few days after an injury or while your injury has any swelling. Heat increases blood flow and can cause more swelling.
Moist heat is more effective than dry heat because it moves more deeply into the muscles, joints, and other tissues. Use it for 10 to 15 minutes or longer if recommended by your healthcare provider. You can use a moist washcloth or towel that has been heated in a microwave or the dryer, but the cloths usually lose their heat within 5 to 10 minutes. Moist heat packs or heating pads that you can buy at the drugstore stay warm longer. Some heat packs are designed to fit specific parts of your body. Hot showers, hot tubs, and whirlpools are another type of moist heat treatment.
You can also apply heat with an electric heating pad on a low setting for 20 to 30 minutes, a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel, or a pad you can heat in the microwave. Make sure that you don’t let heat packs get too hot or leave them in place too long. Give your skin a break after 20 minutes to prevent burns.
Physical therapists and athletic trainers may use ultrasound (sound waves) to provide heat and improve the flow of blood through your tissues to help healing.
The heat from heat creams and ointments doesn’t go deep into muscle tissue. However, the massaging effect of putting the cream on can be helpful. Avoid getting these creams into your eyes or on sensitive skin.