What is Thermotherapy?

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

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.

Thermotherapy might be used to treat menstrual cramps.
Thermotherapy might be used to treat menstrual cramps.

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.

An electric heating pad can be used to administer thermotherapy.
An electric heating pad can be used to administer thermotherapy.

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.

Thermotherapy is applied through a variety of means, such as a hot bath.
Thermotherapy is applied through a variety of means, such as a hot bath.
Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

A graduate of Southeast Missouri State University, Sara has a Master’s Degree in English, which she puts to use writing for wiseGEEK and several magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She has published her own novella, and has other literary projects currently in progress. Sara’s varied interests have also led her to teach children in Spain, tutor college students, run CPR and first aid classes, and organize student retreats.

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Discussion Comments


I never thought of my rice bag being thermotherapy, but that's exactly what it is. I have two pieces of fabric that are filled with uncooked rice. When I put this bag in the microwave for a couple of minutes, it heats up the rice and I use it for a heat pack.

This feels great on tense, sore neck muscles or any part of the body. My shoulders get tight from working at the computer all day, so I like to apply this warm rice bag at the end of the day.

In the winter it also does a good job of keeping you warm. I have used this bag over and over again for many years. I have also seen them made with kernels of corn, but I like the texture of the rice the best.


Anytime I have had a long day working in the garden, or working on outside projects, my muscles are stiff and sore. It seems like any physical work I do that I am not used to, I can really feel it in my muscles by that evening.

I look forward to coming inside and applying some warm heat packs to my sore muscles. You can buy heat packs at almost any store, but I have some reusable ones that I put in the microwave and heat up.

The warmth will last few about an hour if I keep it covered with something. Nothing feels better than some heat getting to my muscles and helping me relax.

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