Many times, you can’t come in for a daily massage when you have persistent muscle soreness. It’s helpful to learn a few techniques you can use at home to ease your pain. Heat is one of those things you can do to help your muscles recover and ease your discomfort.
When to use Hot or Cold Therapy
There are times when cold or heat therapy are more effective. Cold treatment reduces inflammation by decreasing blood flow. This is great to use after an injury, especially if you’ve irritated your tendons. Heat treatment increases blood flow and helps relax muscles. This is great for chronic pain. Heat therapy is also useful after a strain or sprain, to ease tendonitis (this is chronic irritation and stiffness, not the be confused with tendinitis as described above), and to relieve spasms, especially in the back.
Keep in mind, never use extreme heat or extreme cold. Placing ice or a hot water bottle directly on skin could be problematic.
Now you know when to use hot or cold, let’s focus on effectively using heat to treat your aches and pains.
Why Heat Therapy is Better than Cold Therapy
Most of the time, muscle pain at home is caused by overworking a certain area or is present with persistent cramps and spasms. Heat is primarily for relaxation and taking the edge off of several kinds of body pain, mostly duller and persistent pains associated with stiffness.
Treating problems with heat, also known as thermotherapy, is more useful than you may realize, especially steady muscle pain. Muscles respond very well to heat therapy! The heat dilates the blood vessels and promotes increased circulation to help tight or sore muscles relax.
There are two types of heat you can use to treat your muscle pain: dry heat and wet heat. Personally, I’ve seen moist heat help relieve soreness better than dry heat.
Wet Heat Therapy and How to Find Relief with It
Like I mentioned above, there are two types of heat: wet and dry. Dry heat, like laying on a heating pad or using an infrared sauna, draws moisture from the body and it leaves the skin dehydrated. Not what we want at all! Heat with moisture in it conducts heat far more effectively than a dry heating pad. It also penetrates deeper into the muscles than dry heat.
While dry heat can be more convenient (you can’t really take a bath at work), wet heat is much more effective to alleviate muscle soreness, especially to relieve chronic pain. Back pain is an obvious example.
One method of moist heat that you may like, particularly if a bath isn’t practical, is placing a hot, damp towel on the area of concern. A moist heating pack or heating pad that creates moist heat on the skin is also great if you need local, discreet aid. If you have access to a steam room or wet-heat sauna, take advantage of it! It helps your direct muscle pain and circulates relief throughout your entire body.
When I can, I love to ease into a hot tub. It’s a full body experience that not only treats a specific muscle pain, but it relaxes my mind and soothes my entire body as well.
At times, I like to combine a hot bath with self-massage or a good stretch. To get a good self-massage in the bath, trap tennis balls between the tub and your body at the upper or lower back (or wherever you have a knot). The water allows you to control the pressure because you’re floating on the water and pressing down as much as you personally need.
Stretching is also awesome after a hot bath. You’re muscles are relaxed because of the heat therapy, so it’s a good time to work in some preventative care. Stretching daily helps to ensure that muscle pain will stay away. If you’ve recently had a massage, the bath-and-stretch combo help extend the benefits of your massage.
Next time you feel muscle pain, try moist heat. It’ll be better on your muscles and you’ll feel faster relief!