Understanding the Benefits of Heat Therapy for Chronic Injuries: An Osteopath’s Perspective

Author Philip Nolan

Dr. Philip Nolan is a seasoned osteopath specialising in tailored, high-quality treatments. His 20 years of hands-on experience and advocacy for osteopathy have earned him nationwide respect.

Heat Therapy: An Osteopathic Approach

As an osteopath, it’s important to understand the benefits of heat therapy for chronic injuries. Chronic injuries develop slowly, have mild symptoms, and low-grade pain that worsens over time. Examples of chronic injuries include rotator cuff tendinopathy, tennis elbow, golfers’ elbow, plantar fasciitis, severs disease, patella tendinopathy, and sub-occipital strain.

Early diagnosis and an individualized approach to treatment are necessary for chronic injuries. The longer the tissue is affected by the chronic injury, the longer it takes to recover. The tissue is exposed to significant stress over a repetitive period, and without adequate rest and nutrition, it cannot recover. In some cases, there may be an underlying disease process.

It’s important to note that chronic injuries have both acute and chronic aspects, resulting in inflammatory flares and chronically hypertonic tissue. For instance, tennis elbow involves chronic overuse of the muscles that extend the wrist and fingers, leading to fibrotic changes in the muscles and tendons, particularly where they attach at the lateral epicondyle.

Knowing when to use heat therapy and when to use cold therapy is crucial in treating chronic injuries. Applying heat to an inflammatory process can worsen inflammation by dilating blood vessels and increasing blood flow. However, you may not feel the effect due to the pain-numbing properties of heat. Once the heat is removed, pain levels may increase. Therefore, it’s essential to understand the benefits of heat therapy in the treatment of chronic injuries.

 Heat Therapy in a Nutshell
  • Used in the treatment of Chronic injuries.
  • Vasodilates the blood vessels in the area of application, which supplies greater oxygen and nourishment to the affected tissue and improves the fluid dynamics of the area.
  • Influences the sensory receptors of the tissue in the area, which competes with the pain receptor pathways to the brain, resulting in less pain (Gate control theory).
  • Reduces pain very quickly, much faster than Cold Therapy.
  • Decreases stiffness and improves flexibility of affected tissues.
  • Stimulates microcirculation to chronically shortened tissue which can improve healing process and flushes waste products from the tissues.

In conclusion, heat therapy can be a valuable treatment for chronic injuries, but it is essential to use it correctly. As an osteopath, it’s crucial to diagnose chronic injuries early and provide an individualized approach to treatment to promote tissue recovery. Using heat therapy appropriately, along with rest, nutrition, and other therapies, can aid in reducing pain and inflammation, and ultimately, help patients recover from their chronic injuries. By understanding the benefits and limitations of heat therapy, osteopaths and other healthcare professionals can better support their patients in their journey towards healing and recovery.

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