After a long day at work, all you want to do is to take a shower and retire to bed. But the body aches from the day's activities will not let you get the much-needed rest. To ease the pain, you may choose to soak for more extended periods in the warm bathtub, or use a heating pad.
What is a Heating Pad?
A heating pad is a pad/cushion used to warm aching body parts to relieve pain, spasms, stiffness, and cramps. They are used on the neck, back, shoulder and abdomen, amongst others. Depending on the type, they are made of thick microwaveable fabric or reusable covers.
By applying heat to a sore or stiff area, you cause the blood vessels in that area to expand, which translates to improved blood and oxygen supply to the site. Improved perfusion offers comfort, warmth, and relation to the sore muscles, resulting in pain relief. Besides easing soreness caused by overexertion at work or in the field, the heat also reduces inflammation, relieving spasms.
What is Heat Therapy?
In ancient times, people in Greece and Egypt exposed painful body parts to the sun. to ease the pain. Elsewhere across the globe, the Japanese and Chinese were advising those in distress to dip themselves in hot springs, a remedy that always proved useful. From these two case scenarios, it is evident that man was using heat to treat pain, even without fully understanding the science behind it.
Heat Therapy is the use of heat in the management of pain. Heat is applied to a painful body part, using a hot cloth, heating pad. When you exert or strain yourself too much, the tension created in the muscles and soft tissues interferes with blood circulation in the affected. In return, pain signals are sent to the brain, causing you to perceive pain.
Years of extensive research have shown that heat is effective against body aches, whether caused strenuous exercise, overexertion at work, or by ailments such as arthritis. Whether the pain is mild or severe, the application of heat always does the trick. Physicians recommend the use of heat therapy for rehabilitation in cases where other medical interventions have failed.
What are the benefits of Heat Therapy?
Though heat therapy comes with its risks, proper use has been shown to deliver the following benefits:
1. It eases soreness caused by overexertion at work or during exercise.
2. Also, it promotes faster healing of damaged muscles and soft tissues.
3. You do not require the services of a professional. You can purchase the needed apparatus and enjoy heat therapy in the comfort of your home.
4. In rheumatoid arthritis, it reduces inflammation resulting in decreased pain and stiffness.
5. When applied correctly, it causes no harm to your health.
6. Forthose confronted with severe period pains, the application of heat to the lower abdomen helps ease the pain. You no longer have to take time off school or work when your periods.
7. Back pains are a thing of the past once you commence heat therapy. The good thing is, you can carry along your heat pad so you can use it whenever the pain arises.
8. Migraines can be hard to control, but not with heat therapy. Constant use application of heat on the neck or upper back helps reduce the severity of the headaches with time.
9. Also, heat therapy causes muscles to stretch, reducing stiffness.
Before using a Heating Pad:
Using a heating pad is easy, especially because most brands come with an instruction manual. Simply put. warm the heating pad and place it □n the painful area, Depending on the severity of the pain, wait for a while, mostly 15-30 minutes before removing it While this seems simple, several things should be at the back of your mind before you begin your heat therapy. These include:
1. Source of the Pain
Sometimes determining the origin of the pain might prove challenging. Innervation in the body is shared by different muscle groups, organs, and joints. For example, the nerve supply to the thigh is similar to that of the hip and knee joints. Therefore, you might be having pain in the thigh, but it started in the hip. Or you could be having period pains, but due to similar innervation, you end up having lower back pains.
While it might be difficult to understand the whole body's innervation, it is always important that you identify where the pain started. The part of the body where the pain originated is where you should apply the heat pad . Simultaneously, pain in the referred site reduces. If you apply your heat pad to the referred site, the therapy might prove ineffective.
2. Ensure Your Comfort
As with any other type of therapy, the comfort of the user should always be ensured. In cases of menstrual cramps, lie an a comfortable mattress that allows you to adjust positions as the pains demands. As the heat takes effect, you will find yourself settling in one position and eventually falling asleep.
For back pain, make sure you are propped up in a comfortable chair at work or lying on a firm mattress at home. When you are in a relaxed position, you are not adding on the already existing pain. Plus, it allows for the heating pad to work effectively since pain stimulation is reduced by comfort.
3. Use the Right Heating Pad
Always consider the degree of penetration you require and the types of skin before applying a heating pad. Earlier, we discussed the four common types of heating pads, each with a different degree of penetration. Infrared heating pads, heat more at lower temperatures. Though they are not in direct contact with the skin, their heat penetrates deeper through conduction. Therefore, they are preferred in cases of joint pain, muscle stiffness, or menstrual cramps.
On the other hand, microwaveable heating pads start to lose heat the moment they leave the microwave. At maximum, they retain heat for up to 15 minutes. As a result, the heat they provide is limited to the skin surface. Thus, they are ideal for keeping oneself warm or when you have itchy skin.
Besides, the different types of heat pads generate different types of heat - moist and dry heat Those warmed through electricity provide dry heat Though convenient and long-lasting, dry heat draws moisture from the skin, leaving it dry. Therefore； it is not ideal for sensitive skin as it may cause damage.
Moist heat comes from wet heating pads, steam towels, and baths. Unlike its counterpart； moist heat does not cause skin dryness, plus it penetrates deeper into the tissue as compared to dry heat Always consider the degree of penetration you require and the types of skin before applying a heating pad.
How to use a Heating pad?
Heating pads cause instant pain relief. Though most brands attach an instruction manual, sometimes it may be too complex to understand or written in a foreign language. To protect you against unnecessary stress and damages, here are simplified instructions on how to use a heating pad.
Before you begin, adjust the temperature depending on the severity of the pain and area of application. For minor pains and stiffness； a low setting may be more than adequate to effect change. Backaches and more severe pains require higher temperature settings. You can gradually raise the temperatures as you desire, depending on your tolerance to heat.
Always ensure you place a thin piece of fabric on your skin before applying the heat pad to prevent bums or skin irritation. Heat therapy for specific body parts is as discussed below:
1. For back pain, choose a firm, level surface. Place your heat pad on the surface, create a barrier between the pad and your skin using a thin fabric. Gently and slowly lie on the pad. adjusting yourself such that the painful area is in contact with the heating pad. Sit up for five seconds, every two minutes. Remove the pad once you feel the skin has absorbed adequate heat, which should be within an hour.
2. For abdominal pains, adjust temperatures to the middle setting. Lie on your side on a firm, level surface； or sit in a comfortable chair and place the fabric barrier on your skin. Then apply the heating pad on the right upper side for gall bladder pain, left upper side for pancreatic pain, and lower abdomen for menstrual cramps.
3. For shoulder pain, you could use a shoulder heating pad or improvise. Place the pad on the affected shoulder while comfortably lying on your back on a firm surface. The temperature should be in the medium setting. For better results. raise your arm for about 15 minutes while the pad is still in place. If both shoulders are in pain, you will have to keep alternating. Each shoulder should not be under heat for more than one hour.
4. For headaches and migraines, apply a neck heating pad on the neck or upper back as this is where the tension lies. Temperatures should be at a medium setting and do not apply for more than 30 minutes as too much heat has the potential to cause brain damage.
Benefits of using a Heating Pad:
Heating pads have widespread benefits to the user, which are not appreciated as they should. As a result, the larger population underestimates the value of its crucial device. It relieves you of pain, muscle spasms, and stiffness. Therefore, it is no secret that purchasing a heating pad is an investment you will not regret. The specific benefits include:
1. Improves Health
Other than supplying heat to the affected area, heating pads apply pressure as well. Both the heat and the pressure, stimulate dilation of blood vessels as well as angiogenesis. Angiogenesis is the growth of new blood vessels. The two processes result in improved blood circulation and waste removal.
Healthy blood circulation causes you to relax, helping you sleep better. With better sleep, you are more active during the day. and mood swings are minimal. Plus, good sleep improves your general health reducing your risk of getting cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, improved circulation boosts your immune system, further boosting your health.
2. Relieves Pain
Pain relief is the most popular use of heating pads. When you exercise after a long time of non-exercise. you are likely to experience muscle soreness and spasms. Heat applied to sore muscles penetrates deeply with their structure causing them to relax. The muscles do not spasm anymore, resulting in cessation of pain.
Besides, heat reduces inflammation caused by some ailments such as rheumatoid arthritis and lumbar herniation. By slowing down the inflammation process, swelling, and pain decrease. Heat pads cause instant pain relief. Also, they are safe as they do not add harmful substances to your body.
3. Facilitates Wound Healing
As discussed earlier, heat causes blood vessel dilatation and growth in the applied area. These two processes result in better nutrient and oxygen supply, plus the removal of waste products. This way. an optimum environment for the repair of damaged tissues is created. That tendon tear you got as you ran the marathon could use some heat, to facilitate its healing.
4. Reduces Stiffness
When a person says they are experiencing stiffness, they are referring to the painful and limited movement of a muscle or joint It may be a result of age. bad sleeping positions, or degenerative diseases such as osteoarthritis. Heat delivers a warm, soothing effect to the affected area, causing it to relax. Combine this with a little stretching, and the stiffness will disappear as fast as it appeared.
5. Easy to Use
Heating pads do not require you to visit a professional. You can use them at your convenience in the comfort of your home. Most brands accompany their products with instruction manuals, which are easy to follow. If you find the directions boring to read, orjust cannot understand the instructions； log in to YouTube for easy to understand tutorials. Besides, we have included simplified instruction in this article.
Drawbacks of Using Heating Pads:
As a general rule, no matter how good a product, it has its shortcomings. Generally, heating pads are safe and convenient to use. However, if not careful you could fall victim of some of any of its shortcomings to include:
If you are not careful with the temperature settings and how long you use the pad. you could experience any of the following side offsets
•Disrupted body thermoregulation
While sometimes it is not entirely your fault, you should always pay attention to how you adjust the temperatures. Sometimes the device could be faulty, while at other times, your skin might be the sensitive type.
With extended periods of use. dry heat draws moisture from your skin, leaving it dry and vulnerable to cracking. The cracks form a point of entry for microorganisms, which could cause a local or systemic illness. To avoid this, avoid using dry heat for prolonged periods. Also, ensure you moisturize the affected area, a little more than the rest of the body.
Safety Tips for the use of a Heating Pad:
While it is generally safe to use a heating pad. you have to observe the following precautions to avoid bums or fire accidents.
•Always place a thin piece of fabric between your skin and the pad to protect against skin irritation and bums.
•Do not use the pad on one area for more than one hour to avoid skin irritation and dehydration.
•Besides, it is not safe to use the pad overnight as you sleep. Therefore, ensure you remove it before you fall asleep.
•Do not use a heating pad on injured skin, sensitive skin, or on certain skin conditions such as eczema and dermatitis.
•Use the heating pad with caution if you are pregnant You are advised not to use it for more than 10 minutes as you risk causing harm to the baby.
•Repair or replace any naked wires or broken parts to avoid a short circuit.
•Avoid using the pads near water, as you risk electrocution and fires.