Heat therapy has been in practice for years now. In ancient times, Egyptians, Greeks, Chinese, Japanese, and Native Americans used different forms of heat energy to treat various body ailments.
They all firmly believed that applying external heat that is equivalent to our body’s core temperature could do wonders to the human body. Each ancient civilization has recorded different heat therapy procedures such as exposure to sunlight, mud bath, hot water baths, etc.
As human beings evolved, the practice of heat therapy evolved too. While ancient civilizations used natural methods of heat, advancement in technology enables us to use electric heat therapy procedures to enhance our health.
Heat therapy, otherwise known as thermotherapy, isn’t a complicated process. It is a simple procedure of applying heat externally to our body which could improve us physically and mentally. There are two types of heat therapy, one is dry heat therapy and the other is moist heat therapy.
Dry heat therapy doesn’t involve any application of moisture. Taking sunbath and using electric devices fall under the dry heat therapy category. On the other hand, heat procedures that involve moisture are called moist heat therapy. For example, using a wet hot cloth, heating pad, and taking a hot shower.
Science Behind Heat Therapy
Heat energy, in general, expands the materials it comes in contact with through the process of convection, radiation, and conduction. As far as the human body is considered, blood vessels run beneath all our body parts. These blood vessels are tiny tube-like structures that carry essential nutrients, vitamins, and oxygen to improve the functioning of a particular part. Many factors contribute to the improper flow of blood to body parts. It varies from person to person. But one common factor is lack of physical movements which could worsen your health.
In order to improve the blood flow within our body, we could apply a hot towel or heating pad which expands the blood vessels and increases the flow of blood to that particular body part. This process is called vasodilation. The sensory nerves send signals to that body part to increase the skin temperature on par with the body’s core temperature to facilitate the process of vasodilation.
Benefits of Heat Treatments for Different Ailments
A limping leg, lower back pain, muscle soreness, body stiffness, and spasms aren’t pleasant things to experience. But these are acute injuries that don’t last long but could cause you severe pain.
Usually, they are treatable at home and heat therapy could be the best remedy for that. In case you are experiencing chronic level injuries (the one that persists for a longer time), you should consult a doctor, but you can also consider heat therapy, it can give some temporary relief from the pain.
Relieves Body Pain
Have you ever felt exhausted after a long day at work that all you could wish for is a warm bath to soothe your body ache? This is called Myalgia, it is experienced by almost all of us at some point in our lives.
Body ache also prevents us from getting proper sleep and may discourage us to do our work efficiently. Exercising could also be a good choice to increase our body temperature and improve our blood flow, but that’s not a possibility if you are super tired!
In order to beat the body pain, you could soak yourself in a hot bath or take a hot shower to improve the blood flow. This relieves your body pain instantly and improves your mental health too.
The causes of muscle soreness could be exercise, sitting or lying for a longer period, and medications. It could affect one part of the body or all the body parts, but for the most part, it affects a particular part of our body.
The muscles are located a bit interior so you might want to give extra attention to ensure that the heat passes through other layers to dilate the blood vessels and produce desired effect upon the tired, sore muscles.
Relieves Mental Stress
Heat therapy can improve both your physical and mental well-being. Your body deserves a much-deserved break it needed through sauna, hot water, heat gel pad, or hot towel, it not only increases the blood flow but also decreases the cortisol level – the stress hormone present in your body.
It instantly uplifts your mood and relieves you from body aches. Probably that’s why you want to get a warm bath after a mentally and physically tiring day.
Much similar to muscle soreness, spasms are quite common in most people. The most common kind of spasm in the lower back spasm occurs in individuals aged above 40.
Spasms generally restrict the blood flow to that particular part thereby making it hard for you to move around. When you apply heated gel or hot towel to that body part, it expands the blood vessels and provides you immediate relief.
Helps in Getting Good Sleep
There are two suggestions that you would get if you tell someone that you couldn’t sleep at night. One is to drink a warm cup of milk and the other one is to take a warm bath.
It has been scientifically proven that a warm bath before bed could help you get some sleep. They conducted an experiment and concluded that it could also improve your third stage and fourth stage sleep (REM – Rapid Eye Movement) which in turn could enhance your health on a holistic level.
Helps with Improving Immune System
You might wonder how heat therapy could improve our immune system. We all know that high temperature in our body is a result of our immune system reacting to pathogens that enter our body.
Similarly, when we give heat therapy to our body externally, our body recognizes it as fever and starts to strengthen our immune response. It also helps in the production of white blood cells called monocytes, which effectively helps in fighting against infection. That’s why you are recommended to take steam when you have a cold. External heat can help you with improving your immune system to fight against the virus.
Taking a hot water bath in mineral water has been proven to reduce the inflammatory hormones that are responsible for causing inflammation. But this method is only recommended if you need immediate reduction from chronic pain.
Different Methods Of Heat Therapy Treatment
There are different methods of heat therapy followed all around the world. We have collected the list of common heat therapy treatments.
Hot cloth wrap
It’s the simplest method to give yourself a salon-like treatment at home. All you need is a towel (preferably a turkey towel) and hot water. Dip the towel in the hot water, take it out and squeeze the excess water (make sure your towel is not way too hot). You can also microwave it for 30 sec.
Once done, you can wrap it around your desired area as it can soften the tissue, relax the muscles and provide a moisturizing effect to the skin.
A hot shower and Sauna help increase the blood flow to the entire body. A hot shower is probably the easiest thing you could, turn on the hot shower and soak yourself in it to relax your entire body.
Sauna is a small room with temperatures ranging from 65℃ to 90℃ which can make you perspire more. There are two different types of saunas, Finnish saunas (a dry method) and Turkey sauna (a moisture method). Both these methods increase blood flow, reduce muscle soreness, arthritis pain, and improve sleep quality.
There are different types of heating pads available in the market. One is electrical and the other is chemical. The electric one has a bag and a wire attached to it.
It’s the safest method as it can prevent the bag from overheating. It maintains the temperature and produces desired effect when applied to the affected body parts. A chemical heating pad contains sodium acetate and water. This could be heated and used to provide instant relief.
Unlike other heat therapies, Sunlight can provide heat therapy superficially (just on the topmost layer of your skin). But it can help in producing the melatonin hormone which is responsible for maintaining the in-built rhythm of the body. Sunlight is also an important source of Vitamin D, which can improve our body’s bone strength and reduce inflammation.
Heat therapy is vital to improve the overall well-being of our bodies. Most of the methods of heat therapy treatments are easy to do at home.
It is very effective in reducing the stress level, relaxing your entire body, improving your immune system and your sleep cycle, and soothing the sore muscles to feel rejuvenated.