Heat has long been understood to be a great way to ease muscle pain, but how exactly does that work?
To begin with, let’s understand how muscle pain and strain manifests itself.
As you work your muscles throughout the day, you’re putting them through stress. Even if your lifestyle is relatively sedentary, modern life is still hard on your muscles and soft tissues. Repetitive motion, bad posture, lack of exercise, over-exertion–all these can cause muscle tension that restricts blood and oxygen flow. As this happens–you guessed it–the muscles send pain signals to the brain.
The resulting pain can range widely–from mild discomfort to intense, crippling agony.
What heat can do
Adding heat to muscles and soft tissue dilates the blood vessels to increase circulation. This activates your body’s natural healing process, sending vital resources to the distressed area.
Intense heat also has the benefit of soothing and relaxing the surrounding muscles and tissues. You may feel an instant sense of ease and well being wash over you.
Stop! Don’t heat that!
Is the painful area red or swollen? Is the pain you’re feeling the result of some kind of trauma? You better use ice instead. In fact, applying heat can make things worse.
A treatment, not a cure
Heat has tremendous benefits in the short term, but it can’t fix anything permanently, especially if the tension you’re trying to relieve is due to repetitive motion or poor posture. You’ll want to treat the proverbial disease here, not the symptom.
If your muscle strain is due to repetitive motion due to work conditions, you can keep on treating the symptom, but you may need to change the circumstances of your work somehow. This might mean something as simple as an ergonomic appliance. It could also mean a change of jobs. Whatever you choose, keep in mind that not changing anything will take a toll on your body in the long term, no matter how much heat you apply or how often you receive massage.
As for posture, that is something that can be corrected. Mindfulness is key here. Strengthening your mind-body connection will make you more aware of the subtle pain signals your body is sending. You may find that your body is full of aggravating muscle tension you’re not even aware of.
You can work on this yourself, doing regular mindfulness check-ins to ensure you’re standing or sitting in a way that’s natural. You may find, though, that the plasticity of your muscles has been working against you. Your bad posture habits may have trained your muscles to hold themselves in the wrong shape, trapping you in poor posture that’s difficult to correct. Regular massage and a daily stretching regimen may be called for as you try to loosen your muscles and help them conform to a new, healthier posture.
Heat, a key component of massage
We use heat regularly as a tool in massage therapy, sometimes with simple friction on the skin to warm things up. But we may also employ hot towels to help relax particularly tense areas.
Did you know? Hot towels are a session enhancement that’s absolutely free. Just ask!
We also use hot stones as a specialty treatment or enhancement to help break down adhesions and deepen your relaxation.
As with everything on this blog, none of this information should be construed as medical advice or care. The employees of The Good Life Massage, including the writers of this blog, are not medical doctors. Consult with your physician before making any changes to improve your health.
Tom Gunn is the blog editor and marketing director for The Good Life Massage. You can hire him to help build your brand and expand your digital presence by contacting him at firstname.lastname@example.org