Local Heat Therapy
Superficial heat can heat tissues at a depth limited to 1 to 2 cm. Deeper tissues are generally not heated by superficial heat, due to the thermal insulation of subcutaneous fat and the increased cutaneous blood flow, which dissipates the heat.
Hot packs, also known as hydrocollator packs, usually contain a silicate gel in a cotton bag. They are placed in a hot water tank and then applied over layers of towels for up to 20 to 30 minutes.
The sedative, antispasmodic, analgesic, and decongestive effects of heat therapy are well known. Among other things, it is indicated for painful muscle spasms, abdominal muscle cramping, menstrual cramps, and superficial thrombophlebitis. Local application of heat therapy has the following physiologic effects on surface body tissues:
Local heat therapy has been used for decades to relieve muscular and joint pain, including arthritis, back pain, and dysmenorrhea. It may reduce pain by altering pain nerve fiber conduction speeds or raising nerve pain thresholds. Direct heat application to tender spastic muscle areas may alleviate pain secondary to muscle spasm.
Local vasodilation increases blood flow to an injured region, thereby increasing the delivery of leukocytes and antibodies. Other beneficial effects of increased blood flow to the tissues include facilitation of drainage and a “wash-out” effect, purging the tissues of debris and byproducts of tissue injury.
Connective tissue effects
Heat therapy promotes “relaxation” via lengthening of the collagen tissue within muscles, tendons, and ligaments, and thereby aids in stretching and restoration of joint motion.
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