Home Therapies Thermotherapy: application, procedure, effect

Thermotherapy: application, procedure, effect

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 243 views

Thermotherapy is the umbrella term for heat and cold therapy. A heat treatment (e.g. with ultrasound or infrared light) has a muscle-relaxing effect, increases blood circulation and relieves pain. Cold therapy (cryotherapy) is used, for example, to temporarily reduce blood flow and thus counteract swelling. Read everything important about thermotherapy here – when it is indicated, how it works and what speaks against treatment with heat or cold.

What is thermotherapy?

Thermotherapy is a sub-area of ​​physical therapy and thus of physiotherapy . It includes all physical forms of treatment in which heat (heat therapy) or cold (cold therapy) is used in a targeted manner in order to alleviate physical and sometimes also psychological complaints.

Both heat and cold applications affect muscle tension and blood flow and relieve pain. They are almost always prescribed to support the effects of other physiotherapeutic forms of therapy such as massages and physiotherapy.

Thermotherapy with heat: heat therapy

Heat dilates the vessels so that the blood can flow through better – the blood circulation is promoted, metabolic waste products are removed more quickly and messenger substances of the immune system are circulated more. Pain can also decrease because the nerve tracts are relieved. In addition, heat relaxes the muscles, makes the connective tissue more flexible and increases the fluidity (viscosity) of the synovial fluid.

When is heat therapy used?

Areas of application for heat therapy are:

  • general muscle tension
  • Incomplete paralysis with spasmodically increased muscle tension (spastic paresis), for example as a result of a stroke
  • Wear-related (degenerative) diseases such as arthrosis , herniated discs, spinal canal stenosis
  • chronic joint inflammation (as in rheumatism), but not in the acute stage!
  • functional organ complaints such as abdominal pain in irritable bowel syndrome

For some diseases, heat therapy is only advisable in certain situations:

For example, in the case of a herniated disc, heat can relax or relax the surrounding muscles and thus alleviate the pain a little (e.g. hot-water bottle, heat plaster, sauna session, infrared radiation). On the other hand, if the nerves are irritated as a result of the incident, most patients find cold applications more comfortable (eg cold compresses).

Heat treatment for flavor can be beneficial unless a joint is acutely inflamed and swollen. In this acute stage, cold applications make more sense – they counteract inflammatory processes and swelling. The same applies to the use of heat in arthrosis: cold in acutely inflamed joints, otherwise heat.

How is heat therapy applied?

Heat therapy uses various “media” to apply the heat stimuli. Examples:

  • Infrared : The infrared light generates heat on the part of the body treated with it.
  • Ultrasound : The sound waves trigger vibration and heat effects in the treated part of the body. This promotes blood circulation, stimulates the metabolism and also heats up deeper layers of tissue.
  • Hot air : The treatment with hot air relaxes the muscles and relieves pain.
  • Hot Roll : Heat and massage treatment using a roll of towels rolled up in a funnel shape that has been soaked in very hot water.

Heat treatment as a home remedy

Various heat applications can be carried out as home remedies on your own. The best known is probably the hot -water bottle: The dry heat can provide relief for a wide variety of ailments – from cold feet to abdominal pain and tense muscles.

You can also use a cherry pit or spelled pillow in the same way as the hot water bottle . It is first heated in the microwave or in the oven (follow the manufacturer’s instructions!). You can find out more about the effect and use of such small fabric bags filled with various “grains” in the article ” Grain pillows ” .

A warm onion poultice can help with earaches: Wrap a finely chopped kitchen onion in a thin cloth, warm it up, place it on the aching ear and fix it with a headband or hat. More detailed information on the production and use of this tried and tested household remedy can be found in the article onion bags .

A warm wrap or compress around the neck is advisable if you are plagued by a sore throat or hoarseness, for example. There are different ways of preparing it, for example with hot water, lemons or essential oils. You can read more about this in the neck wrap article . If you’re looking to soothe your sore throat with a warm potato poultice, see the Potato Poultice post to learn how.

A warm wrap can also be good for other parts of the body. A hot chest compress or wrap is recommended for persistent, spasmodic coughs . But you should be fever-free for this. You can read more about the application and important warnings in the article chest wrap .

A slightly warmed quark compress or wrap on the chest can also help with a cough. You can find out how to make it and use it correctly in the article Quark wrap (curd wrappers) .

The treatment of respiratory diseases such as bronchitis or pneumonia can also be supported with a mustard flour compress . The skin-irritating essential oil of mustard has a strong circulation-enhancing effect. You can find more information about the effect, production and use of a mustard compress in the article Mustard .

Warmth or hot showers and baths fall under the category of hydrotherapy . You can read more about this here .

Home remedies have their limits. If your symptoms persist over a long period of time, do not get better or even get worse, you should always consult a doctor.

When is heat therapy not suitable?

Sometimes heat application is not advisable or should be discussed with a doctor first. This applies, for example, in the following cases:

  • Acute inflammations such as influenza infections or acute joint inflammation
  • (high fever
  • open skin injuries or skin irritations in the body area to be treated
  • Heart failure
  • high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)
  • Cancer diseases (especially in advanced stages)
  • Bleeding tendency
  • Circulatory disorders such as smoker’s leg, thrombosis, varicose veins
  • Sensory disorders (reduced perception of sensitive stimuli such as heat and cold)
  • Known hypersensitivity to heat
  • high age

The doctor can tell you whether heat therapy is helpful in your case and for your symptoms and if so, in what form. For example, he may allow you to use light heat (e.g. seed pillows) and only discourage intense heat (e.g. hot-humid wrap).

For further warnings on special heat applications such as onion bags, potato or breast wraps, please refer to the respective articles.

Thermotherapy with cold: cold therapy

Cold constricts the vessels, reduces blood flow and slows down metabolic processes. This can counteract swelling. In addition, the cold causes increased muscle tension when used for a short period of time, but relaxes the muscles when the stimulus is prolonged. The fact that cold temporarily blocks nerves and pain receptors has a pain-relieving effect. Cold treatment can also be used to combat inflammation.

You can read more about the effects and use of cold therapy and cold applications as home remedies in the article Cryotherapy .

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