Benefits of Heat Therapy for Lower Back Pain

Lower back pain is arguably the most common ailment that people will suffer from in their lifetimes.

Lower back pain

Lower back pain

Back pain in general is subject to many different treatments from over the counter medication to expensive therapies designed to correct the position of the spinal column in order to reduce the pain.

However, most instances of lower back pain is muscle-related which means that increasing the blood flow to that area will help bring more relief. An increase in the blood flow to the affected area will help to loosen the muscles and help to heal the affected area even faster. This can be achieved with certain over the counter pain relief medicine such as aspirin or through even simpler measures by heating up the affected area.

How Does Heat Relief Work?

When the muscles are heated, the blood vessels inside relax and open up more which in turn brings more blood flow, nutrients and oxygen to the affected area. This action can reduce that pain not only in the muscles, but in the joints, tendons and ligaments as well. Heat has been used for many thousands of years to bring about pain relief in muscles all over the body.

The heat being applied also reduces muscle spasms which can decrease the range of motion as well. Basically, to apply the right amount of heat acts in a similar fashion to exercising the muscle which in turn also increases blood flow and flexibility to the areas that are affected. 

How to Apply the Proper Amount of Heat

There are a number of products that can apply heat to the affected area, most of which are inexpensive and can be stored just in case the heat is needed. The most important aspect of applying heat to the affected area is that it cannot be too much that it burns the skin. If you cannot hold the item in your hands, then it is certainly too hot for the skin on your back.

The sources of heat that are commonly used to alleviate back pain are as follows;

  • Heat Pad
  • Water Bottle
  • Gel Packs
  • Hot Towels
  • Hot Bath and More

Each of these applications when applied properly can help relief the pain and stiffness associated with lower back pain. However, they must be applied properly and they must maintain a temperature that is constant for a long enough period of time to penetrate the skin and work on the muscles in question. In addition, your physician or physical therapist can recommend products for you to use as well.

Wet or Dry Heat?

One of the questions many people have about using heat is whether it should be wet or dry. The truth is that if the heat is constant and applied long enough, then it matters little which one is to be used. However, the difference is that water or liquid does conduct the heat better to the skin than traditional dry methods, so the pain relief aspects will reach your back muscles sooner if the product used is wet. 

What is the Best Method for Using Heat?

First and foremost you should not apply a device of heat to your body that does not offer some type of protection for the skin. You can always place a thin towel between you and the item in question so that it does not burn or mark the skin. Naturally, if you take a hot bath you should be careful to check the water so that it is not too hot. Admittedly, this is where a hot tub with water jets can come in handy to bring massaging action to your back with hot water.

You should apply the heat to the affected areas of the back and joints whenever you feel the pain. However, some of the pain will linger for a while after you remove the heat source, so be prepared and take extra caution when you have to move around. Ideally, you can use a heating device on your back pain as you go to bed and then remove it once you are ready to go to sleep. 

Tips on Using Heating Devices

Back pain illustration

Back pain illustration

There are a number of aspects that you should be aware of when using any type of heating device for your back pain. By following these tips, you can get the most out of these measures without causing any additional issues so that you can feel the relief that will last as long as possible.

Under 20 Minutes: Whether you take a hot bath or use a device or pad to apply the heat, it should not be for more than 20 minutes at a time. This is because the rest of your muscles are cooling down as well which will mean more stiffness in the rest of your body. Instead, apply the heat for 20 minutes and then get up and around unless you are already in bed and are going to go to sleep.

With Swelling, Use Cold First: If there is swelling associated with your back pain, then you will need to apply a cold compress to reduce the swelling before adding the heat. Adding heat first will only make the swelling worse, so start off with a cold compress for 20 minutes.

Don’t Lie Down on a Heat Source: Even a heat source that may seem comfortable at first is not one to lie down on and then fall asleep. You can easily burn the skin on your back given the compression. Instead, let the heat source rest on top of your back as you lie on your side or stomach, then remove it yourself or have it removed after 20 minutes if you should fall asleep.

Times When Not to Apply Heat: There are certain conditions when you should not apply heat to a sore back; -      

  • Poor Circulation
  • Open Wound or Stitches
  • Diabetic 

If you have one of these conditions, you should consult with your doctor about what is the best method for relieving the pain in your back first.

By following these tips, you can bring about relief to your back pain and do so while taking fewer medications.

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