Hot Therapy for Back or Neck Pain

Hot therapy, also called thermotherapy, is the non-surgical process of applying a heat source to an injured body part. The aim of hot therapy is to increase circulation to the affected area because it is believed that this will help remove toxins, deliver nutrients and oxygen and aid in generating new bone and soft tissue. Heat also stimulates temperature receptors, which can keep the brain from receiving neural pain signals.

Generally, hot therapy works best after cold therapy has already been used for 24 to 48 hours to reduce inflammation. Every time hot therapy is used, be sure to place a buffering material between the heat source and your skin, especially when chronic skin conditions like psoriasis or eczema are present, to avoid any additional irritation.

Types of hot therapy

After consultation with a physician, there are a variety of ways to integrate hot therapy into an overall neck or back pain treatment plan for conditions like degenerative disc disease or facet disease:

  • Superficial hot therapy works on the skin and tissues just under the skin. Examples include electric heating pads, paraffin baths, hot water bottles, hydrotherapy in the form of hot whirlpools, topical heating creams and ointments, and infrared heat therapy rooms.
  • Deep hot therapy is directed toward deep tissues and muscles. Infrared heat therapy rooms and hydrotherapy can also be considered deep hot therapy. Other forms include ultrasound and diathermy, which focus heat on the affected area through high-frequency sound waves and electrode drums, respectively.

Combining hot therapy with other nonsurgical treatments

It is important that you consult a physician before using hot therapy as a form of pain management for chronic neck or back pain. Incorrect application can cause injury. When consulting a physician, also ask about combining hot therapy with cold therapy or using pain medication, back braces, acupuncture, massage and TENS treatment. In addition, there are a variety of low-impact activities that have proven effective in the treatment of neck and back pain, including yoga, swimming, exercise ball therapy, recumbent exercise bikes and elliptical trainers. However, keep in mind that an exercise regimen should never be attempted without a physician’s approval.