While the overall qualities of warmth and heat have long been associated with comfort and relaxation, heat therapy goes a step further and can provide both pain relief and healing benefits for many types of lower back pain.
In addition, heat therapy for lower back pain - in the form of heating pads, heat wraps, hot baths, warm gel packs, etc. - is both inexpensive and easy to do.
This article provides an examination of how heat therapy interacts with the body to alleviate pain as well as options on how to apply heat therapy to help alleviate many types of lower back pain.
How Heat Therapy Works
Many episodes of lower back muscle strain result from strains and over-exertions, creating tension in the muscles and soft tissues around the lower spine. As a result, this restricts proper circulation and sends pain signals to the brain.
Muscle spasm in the lower back can create sensations that may range from mild discomfort to excruciating lower back pain. Heat therapy can help relieve pain from the muscle spasm and related tightness in the lower back.
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Heat therapy application can help provide lower back pain relief through several mechanisms:
- Heat therapy dilates the blood vessels of the muscles surrounding the lumbar spine. This process increases the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles, helping to heal the damaged tissue.
- Heat stimulates the sensory receptors in the skin, which means that applying heat to the lower back will decrease transmissions of pain signals to the brain and partially relieve the discomfort.
- Heat application facilitates stretching the soft tissues around the spine, including muscles, connective tissue, and adhesions. Consequently, with heat therapy, there will be a decrease in stiffness as well as injury, with an increase in flexibility and overall feeling of comfort. Flexibility is very important for a healthy back.
There are several other significant benefits of heat therapy that make it so appealing. Compared to most therapies, heat therapy is quite inexpensive (and in many circumstances it’s free - such as taking a hot bath). Heat therapy is also easy to do - it can be done at home while relaxing, and portable heat wraps also make it an option while at work or in the car.
For many people, heat therapy works best when combined with other treatment modalities, such as physical therapy and exercise. Relative to most medical treatments available, heat therapy is appealing to many people because it is a non-invasive and non-pharmaceutical form of lower back pain relief.