When To Use Heat
Remember the trusty heating pad? Heat increases blood flow and removes waste products from around the site of an injury. However, while it has its place in treatment, if applied too early, heat can actually cause additional damage. As a general rule of thumb, wait at least 48 hours from the onset of an injury to apply heat. This allows time for the swelling to stop.
Moist heat is more effective than dry heat, with therapeutic hot tubs my preferred choice of application. If you do not have access to one, try a moist heating pad or a pad that you moisten and heat in the microwave oven.
Ultrasound works by converting sound waves to heat inside the muscle tissue. Although not as convenient as home heating methods, it achieves much deeper heating of damaged muscles.
Research indicates that ultrasound is 50 to 80% more effective than superficial heat in improving range of motion to the applied area. Of course, if you do not have access to ultrasound, heating with hot packs or hydrotherapy will suffice; these tools are just less effective than ultrasound.
Many people believe that ultrasound is effective in treating pain, but few available, well-documented, scientifically sound studies support this belief.
Beware of Sports Creams
Do not be fooled by sports creams and ointments as a substitute for heat therapy. Most of these products are skin irritants that give the illusion of heat treatment; in reality, they only heat the skin’s surface.