Though pain relief can come in the form of medicine, many people opt for a natural approach when it comes to managing their discomfort. Thermotherapy, or the use of heat for pain relief, is one such option. It can also be used for other health needs, such as increasing blood flow to improve the healing process.
Also known as heat therapy, thermotherapy is applied through a variety of means. A patient may use something very simple, such as a heating pad, hot water, or a hot washcloth. More complex applications can be administered through ultrasound treatment, a heat therapy wrap, whirlpool bath, or hydrocollator pack, more commonly known as a hot pack.
Ointments and creams designed to produce a heating sensation may also be applied to relieve pain. Other forms of heat therapy include paraffin dips and diathermy, or microwave thermotherapy. Microwave heat therapy can be used to treat urinary tract infections through the insertion of a microwave catheter in the affected area. This catheter administers heat to destroy infected tissue.
Pain stemming from many conditions can be partially or fully relieved through thermotherapy. Body stiffness caused by arthritis, deep tissue injuries, or pulled muscles can be treated with heat. The inflammation that causes pain can be reduced through thermotherapy. Menstrual cramps, tendinitis, infection, edema, bursitis, some cancers, and muscle spasms may also be relieved through the application of heat.
Rehabilitation centers often use thermotherapy beyond its pain relief properties. A physical therapist may apply heat to increase the elasticity of collagen tissue, which helps to repair damaged cartilage, tendons, bone, ligaments, and skin. He or she may also use heat to simply increase the body's blood flow, which stimulates the delivery of oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. This helps speed up the healing process.
Thermotherapy works by increasing the skin's temperature. As such, the temperature of the body's cells warm, causing the blood vessels to widen and rapidly allow blood to flow to the skin. Heat also works as a muscle relaxant, as well as a possible pain receptor blocker. Moist heat is preferable for the process, as the water increases the transport speed of the heat.
Induced thermotherapy can also be used in plant care. When propagating vines, gardeners can run into problems with viroids, or particles that are smaller than viruses, that interfere with plant growth. To combat these pests, gardeners sometimes use heat to destroy the viroids.