Heat treatment or thermotherapy is an effective process of healing from a sports injury. Understanding the when and how to use heat treatment is essential since it can even prolong the process of healing when not done properly.
The Process Of Healing-
There are four stages of tissue healing. Each of these has a considerable overlap between each other, even if mentioned separately.
1. The first phase is known as the most acute stage of healing or the bleeding/bruising/swelling phase. This is the short phase immediately after an injury. The extent of this phase depends on the extent of the injury and how many vascular structures are affected.
2. The second phase is called the inflammatory phase. The goal for this phase is to ensure that no further damage happens to the affected area and to stop the first phase. It is during this phase that the blood supply to the area increases causing a build-up of fluid. Heat treatment is not applicable here since it increases the blood circulation and can lengthen the healing process.
3. The third phase is called proliferation. This is the phase where the introduction of scarring and new tissue takes place. This is the post-injury phase and heat treatment greatly helps during this time, with the right kind of stressors (exercises or intervention) followed by cooling.
4. The third fourth phase is known as remodeling. It is the time when the new tissue matures and settles down. Thermotherapy in the form of Heat should be applied in this phase to bring about good extensibility in the tissues.
Injuries that are treatable through Heat Therapy Heat treatments are extremely effective in muscle, and conditions causing aches and pains, spasms and cramps. It can also be applied to ligament and joint injuries like those related to a thumb, turf toe, elbow, wrist sprains and sprained ankles. The idea behind any heat treatment is to make the tissue more extensible by warming it up. Exercises related to a range of motion should be performed immediately as the extensibility of tissues gained with heat will allow for a greater range.
How heat treatment helps in treating sports injuries?
● Heat treatment significantly increases the blood circulation and help to eradicate dead skin and other toxic bodies from the origin of the injury.
● It assists in the metabolism of the cells.
● It increases capillary permeability.
● It increases the number of nutrients and oxygen to the source of injury and speeds up the process of healing.
● Heat treatments can cut down muscle spasms.
Types of Heat Treatments Available:
For heating deep tissues, ultrasound is the safest form of treatment. It can penetrate up to 5 inches beneath the skin. This being said it needs to be administered by a physiotherapist or a PT assistant and in turn, becomes expensive. Then there is superficial heat therapy. This is convenient and readily available. They directly transfer heat from the source to the injury location. Common examples of these are a hot tub, paraffin bath and hot bags. Sometimes dry hot packs may also be used for superficial heating. They produce a steady source of heat and are run by either microwave or electricity. Caution should be taken in order to ensure that the heat does not burn the upper layer of the skin.
How Sports Physiotherapy and Heat therapy complement one another?
Heat therapy forms an integral part of Physiotherapy treatment and is used in combination with other modalities and exercise-based treatment for the following reasons:
• To improve the flexibility of your soft tissue structures.
• To reduce muscle spasms.
• To alleviate pain by releasing endorphins, powerful opiate-like chemicals which block pain transmission.
• To increase blood flow by relaxing the walls of blood vessels which in turn boost metabolism and help when stretching muscles and increasing overall flexibility.