What Is Therapeutic Heat?

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  • Written By: A. Gamm
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 23 October 2019
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Therapeutic heat is a method of therapy that is commonly used for inflammation, arthritis, sports injuries and more recently, cancer. Typically, there are three different ways in which heat therapy is applied: the entire body, a specific region, or a concentrated section of the body. In most cases the temperatures used are above 104°F (40°C), but just below 113°F (45°C). The common heat therapy techniques employed as of 2011 include hot water, hot blankets, wax, body wraps, compresses, high frequency waves, and fever-inducing substances.

The use of therapeutic heat for inflammation, arthritis, and joint and muscle pains is commonplace in medical surroundings as well as in domestic environments. Heat is typically applied to a larger region as opposed to a localized area in the form of hot compresses, hot water bottles, and even topical creams that heat when applied to the skin. In the case of acute inflammation, it is generally recommended to avoid high heat as it may worsen symptoms. Waiting for the inflammation to go down before using heat therapy, however, has proven to be very beneficial to the healing process.


Using heat therapy as a complementary treatment for cancer patients is becoming more common as of 2011. Several studies have implicated that the use of therapeutic heat may in fact kill cancer cells and prevent them from growing and spreading. In many cases, the heat therapy is performed only in the area where the cancer is located with high frequency waves, or occasionally with heated probes.

While regional and localized heat therapy is commonplace for treatments, some full body therapeutic heat methods are still considered controversial as of 2011. The most debated method is the injection of solutions that are created specifically to create a fever in the patient. This is because there have been several deaths associated with this technique. In 2011, several doctors question as to whether this method provides benefits that outweigh the risks associated with fever-induced hyperthermia, as the success rates in treating ailments using this method are inconsistent.

The benefits of using therapeutic heat are both short and long term. While the body is heated, a person’s pain threshold typically increases significantly. The heat also increases extensibility in most people, meaning the range of motion in the area that is heated is greater and remains so for up to days after treatment. Biochemical reactions are increased and the reflexes of the spinal cord are stimulated, which has several implicated health benefits. A rush of blood to the heated area also increases oxygenation, which in turn flushes out impurities in the area more efficiently.


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