A heating pad is a device that is used to warm up parts of the body in order to manage and alleviate pain. Localized application of heat dilates the blood vessels and increases the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles, stimulates sensory receptors in order to decrease pain signals to the brain and facilitates stretching of soft tissue, all of which helping to heal the damaged area. In the past mostly "hot water bottles" were used for this purpose, now heating pads usually are made electrical or chemical.
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Pain Management Miscellaneous
Hot & Cold Therapy
For muscle pain, sprains and injuries, hot & cold treatments can give you fast relief and reduce the amount of pain medication needed. Heat and cold therapies work in different ways and provide different benefits. That means that sometimes, knowing which is the best treatment to use can be confusing.
Both hot & cold therapies work with your body’s own physiological methods to reduce pain, stiffness and prevent further injury. When an acute injury occurs, the body’s response is to open the blood vessels in the area. Increased blood flow sends more oxygen, nutrients and cells that can fight damage or infection to the site. Increased blood flow also creates swelling, your body’s natural way of restricting movement so there is no further injury.
Any increase in temperature of the skin or deeper structures causes the blood vessels to open, or dilate. A greater amount of blood can flow into the area when the vessels are dilated. This increases the temperature in the area, allows more infection fighting cells to work, changes the amount of fluid that can flow through the blood vessels and raises the metabolic activity of the cells that surround the damaged tissues. Because heat causes increased blood flow, it should not be used for the first 24-48 hours after an injury.
Lowering the temperature around an injured area works in the opposite way. Blood vessels respond to cold by constricting or closing down. This vasoconstriction restricts blood flow to an injured area. If there is an open wound, it will help to limit the amount of bleeding. Although less blood can enter the area, the blood vessels in the skin can dilate and the skin may look redder due to reactive hyperemia. The overall result of cold treatment is a decrease in swelling and the metabolic activity of the local cells. Ultimately, pain relief occurs for a combination of these factors.
Immediate application of cold packs can reduce the pain and severity of injuries and burns. Cooling injured areas prevents swelling, or edema from occurring or becoming worse. If applied quickly enough, cold treatment can reduce or prevent the formation of blisters.
Effective Use of Heat and Cold Therapy
Applied heat and cold therapies can be very effective in controlling pain and speeding recovery from injuries or muscle and joint pain. To effectively use these treatments, just follow some simple guidelines.
Heat therapy can be divided into superficial and deep modalities. Superficial heat therapies include heating pads, heat lamps, warm moist compresses and medicated creams or gels. Pain associated with muscle spasms, leg cramps, menstrual cramps and superficial thrombophlebitis responds quickly to heat treatments.
A physical therapist or medical technologist usually applies deep heat therapies. These include ultrasound treatment, electric stimulation, paraffin baths.
The acronym “RICE” reminds us how to treat acute injuries like sprains, strains bumps and bruises. It stands for:
By following these guidelines, most minor injuries to skin and soft tissue like muscles, ligaments and tendons can be minimized. The body’s response to injuries like this is to swell quickly. Swelling prevents injuries in two ways. First, increased pressure from body fluids compresses the area and makes the nerves more sensitive to pain. The highly sensitized nerves respond more easily to painful stimuli, discouraging you from putting weight on the area or moving it. Next, the swelling acts like a splint, and reduces mobility at the site of the injury.
Applying cold therapy to these injures short circuits the body’s natural swelling response. By closing down blood vessels to the area, less blood and fluids enter the area, thus less swelling can occur. With diminished swelling, there is less pain and stiffness. Recovery can progress faster with less loss of strength, and therefore, less rehabilitation. Compression of the injured area also helps to prevent excessive swelling. Elevation uses gravity to encourage blood and fluid to flow away for the injured area, also working to decrease swelling.
By combining the beneficial effects of heat and cold therapy, more chronic conditions can be improved. This method is most effective for long standing pain and stiffness associated with arthritic problems and joint pain. Persistent swelling after an acute in jury such as a sprain responds very well to contrast therapy. To perform contrast therapy, simply apply heat for 5 minutes, then apply cold for about 5 minutes. Repeat the cycle for 20 to 30 minutes.
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