Superficial Heat

Heat therapy is used to increase skin temperature with very little increase in the temperature of deeper areas of the body. This type of heat is called superficial heat.  You may want to discuss this treatment with a Prairie Spine and Pain Institute Specialist to determine if this is a good therapy for your condition. Heat can cause your skin to burn. So, if the heat that is used is uncomfortable, please tell your therapist. DO NOT sleep on any type of heating unit. You may be burned.

Heat causes the blood vessels to get bigger, which allows more blood to go to the area. Blood brings nutrients to the area and carries away waste, which helps healing.

How superficial heat helps chronic pain patients

  • Relaxes tension in muscles
  • Increases blood flow to parts of body
  • Promotes healing in the body’s tissues
  • Prepares muscles and joints for exercise and stretching

Forms of Superficial Heat

Moist hot packs are kept in the water at a temperature of 140 to 160°F. They are usually wrapped in six to eight layers of towels in order to prevent burning. The hot packs are then applied to the affected area for 15 to 20 minutes. The skin may look red after the patient has been given a hot pack, but the redness should disappear in six hours.

Heating pads produce a dry heat. Physical therapists do not use heating pads because moist heat is more comfortable and goes deeper into the body. Heating pads may be bought at a drug store. Make sure you do not use the pad on a setting higher than “Medium” you may be burned.  Never use a heating pad for more than 30 minutes at a time.

Some pads can be used with water. If the pad you purchase is approved for use with water, use it in the following way:

  • Put a moist towel over the area to be treated.
  • Then, put the heating pad on top of the towel.
  • Make sure that the heating pad is set to no higher than the “Medium” setting.

Paraffin is made up of wax mixed with mineral oil. It has a temperature between 118 and 130°F. Paraffin is often used to treat arthritis of the hands or feet. The individual dips his or her hand or foot into the paraffin ten times to form a thick coating around the area being treated. The hand or foot is then wrapped in a towel for up to 20 minutes, which allows all of the joints in the hand or foot to warm up. Home paraffin units are available.

Whirlpools are special bathtubs that are kept at a temperature between 98 and 104°F. The area of the body to be treated is placed in the water for about 20 minutes. Agitation is often used to help move the heat of the water around the body part. The agitation also helps improve circulation throughout the skin.