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When Should You Use Heat to Treat Pain?

Heat can be an effective, inexpensive method of pain control. Knowing when not to use heat is very important. Get advice from your doctor of chiropractic who understands your specific medical conditions and can provide the best advice for you. If you have any swelling or inflammation you should avoid using heat. Heat usually is contraindicated if your pain is sharp or burning. Heat should not be used in the following conditions: acute traumatic injuries, impaired circulation, poor thermal regulation, thrombophlebitis, tumors, dermatitis, advanced diabetes and advanced arthritis. Whole body heat such as hot tubs should be avoided if you have multiple sclerosis, cardiovascular disease or you are pregnant. 

If you pain is chronic and feels more dull and achy, heat will relieve your pain. Heat can help soothe your joints and relax your tight muscles making them easier to stretch. Trigger points are a common source of back pain and heat greatly helps this condition. Trigger points are hyperirritable areas of muscle and fascia that flare up from time to time. They are tender points or knots that cause pain to refer away from them when pressure is applied to the trigger point. Many people with chronic reoccurring low back pain have both trigger points and spinal subluxations that cause their frequent acute flare ups. 

Heat helps by a variety of physiological methods. Heat increases circulation to the area it is applied. The increased circulation helps the body remove waste products and toxins that can damage soft tissue and irritate sensory nerve receptors. Heat dilates blood vessels and increased blood flow providing more oxygen and nutrients which helps the soft tissue to heal. Heat stimulates receptors in the skin and this can decrease the pain signals that reach the brain. 

When using heat be careful not to burn the skin. Don't use the high settings on heating pads and be very careful that you don't fall asleep on a heating pad. Falling asleep on a heating pad, even at lower temperatures, can burn the skin from an accumulative effect of the heat. Moist heat is better than dry heat.  Moist heat penetrates deeper than dry heat. Dry heat, like from regular heating pads, can draw moisture out of the body and dehydrate the skin. Heat should be applied for no more than 20 minutes. It can be applied every 2 hours as needed for pain relief. 

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