Neck Pain: How To Apply Heat Therapy

Neck Pain: How To Apply Heat Therapy - Depositphotos 42558553 xl 2015

Neck Pain: How To Apply Heat Therapy - Depositphotos 42558553 xl 2015
Do you have neck pain right now?

We feel your pain. Issues with the neck, the upper quadrant of the spine, and the muscles and tendons surrounding the neck can cause severe pain and discomfort. It’s the type of pain that is hard to escape, too, because your neck is an integral part of your anatomy.

But we’re here to help.

Inside your neck, there are seven bones – called the cervical vertebrae – and twenty-six muscles. They work together to stabilize and keep your head in position. With the average human head weighing approximately 11lbs, that’s quite a job! It’s a bit like a hinge on a door or a camera tripod. It allows you to look left, right, up and down, and circle and twist your head right around if you want to.

The neck houses some critical arteries, veins, and nerves, too. For starters, there’s a large jugular vein that moves blood from your brain back to the heart, and the vagus nerve that controls our stress response. Deciding whether you’re in fight/flight or rest/relax mode and managing everything from your heart rate and blood pressure to metabolism, digestion, and the nervous system is all situated in your neck.

It’s a complicated bit of kit, which means that neck pain makes everything you do painful when things go wrong – whether it’s sitting, standing, walking, or running. Aching neck muscles, stiff shoulders, chronic pain, or arthritis in the neck can be excruciating. It affects your long-term health as well as your sense of wellbeing.

So, what can you do to get relief from the pain?

In this blog, we explain how you can use heat therapy to help with your neck pain. It might seem simple, and you may want to apply heat to your neck right away, but there are some crucial factors to consider first, and, as with everything, there is a right and wrong way to do it.

In the right circumstances, heat therapy provides soothing relief for discomfort in the neck and shoulders. However, with recent sporting injuries and inflammation, your doctor or physical therapist might recommend ice/cold therapy instead (depending on the damage). And please remember to get your neck pain checked out by an MD or Physical Therapist, as they can check for serious injuries.

When Not To Use Heat Therapy

When not to use heat therapy for neck pain

In some cases, heat therapy is not the best option. Muscle strain usually occurs when sensitive muscle tissue tears, so internal bleeding or inflammation is a real possibility with a neck injury. When swelling or pain accompanies a neck injury, ice treatments may prove helpful. Directly after the damage occurs, however, it is still important to seek medical advice first.

When there is a possibility, you could be at risk of internal bleeding or swelling. In this instance, heat treatments can make the problem worse, so avoid at all costs . At least, wait until an MD or Physical Therapist has examined you. Also, prolonged neck injuries or neck injuries that feel swollen, badly strained, or painful may involve internal bleeding. It is always best to check with a medical professional before using heat treatments at home.

If you have already put pain-relieving gel or cream on the problem area, do not apply heat treatment over the top. Pain relief gels – like Voltarol or Biofreeze – ease soreness by numbing the discomfort. You won’t be able to feel how hot your heat treatment is until it is too late. If in doubt, always consult your doctor or physical therapist first before applying any form of heat or cold therapy.

However,  if you’ve already consulted a doctor or physical therapist and still have neck pain, in that case, heat therapy is excellent to treat your discomfort. As a pain-relieving therapy, heat therapy is cheap and easy to apply, and it doesn’t require an expensive prescription.

Yet, as an experienced PT, I know how varied the effects can be – due to how you use heat therapy.

When used correctly, heat treatments work deep down to promote natural healing, pain relief, and tissue repair for neck strains and stiffness. But the type of heat and method you use significantly affects how well the heat therapy works. Here are my top tips on using heat therapy to get you moving and free from neck pain as quickly as possible and get fast, effective, free pain relief.

Top Tips For Using Heat Therapy For Neck Pain

Top Tips For Using Heat Therapy For Neck Pain

Liquid Heat Treatments

Liquid heat treatments – such as taking a hot bath, using a moist hot towel, or gel packs – work faster than dry heat treatments.

Dry heat treatments include rice and lavender packs that are soothing, but they can draw moisture out of the skin and cause irritation. Liquid heat therapy can be absorbed much more quickly and applied at a higher temperature to work deep down to reach damaged tissues.

We feel neck pain when strained, tense muscles and torn tissues won’t allow blood to flow through the damaged area properly. Heat therapy expands the blood vessels, helping to get the blood moving through your neck again.

While dulling the degree of pain you feel and encouraging uncomfortable, stiff tissues to stretch and regain flexibility, with blood circulating through the problem area again, essential oxygen, anti-inflammatories, and restorative substances can reach injured tissues and stiff muscles to heal and repair.

Neck wraps

Neck wraps and heated gel pads are an easy way to allow heat treatments to remain on your neck for the full length of time required at a constant temperature.

If you can’t get hold of a neck wrap, you could substitute a neck pad with a hot bath, steamed towel, hot water bottle, or, if pushed, a hot shower. However, none of these can have the same impact as a wrap or pad due to the application’s differing proximity plus the fast decline in temperature.

Massage

With blood and natural healing properties flowing into your sore areas, you can aid the repair process further with gentle massage, neck exercises, or light exercise.

A light massage will help to relax and ease strained muscles back into place, promoting suppleness and movement. At the same time, careful neck exercises will assist stiff muscles in regaining flexibility.

However, if you do feel any pain during neck exercises or massage, discontinue the movement and try an alternative activity or seek medical advice if necessary.

The best form of neck pain therapy is a combination of proper diagnosis and deeper tissue massage from an experienced physical therapist. We reach deep down to properly aid damaged tissue while giving you bespoke exercises to do at home to help you regain strength and mobility.

Temperature

Remember to check the temperature of the heat therapy you are using with the more sensitive area at the back of your hand to avoid burning your neck.

Heat therapies should be comfortably warm and never hot. Wrap in a towel, if necessary – if you’re using a hot water bottle or other DIY method and leave it on for a maximum of twenty minutes. If you want to re-apply the treatment, leave a break of forty minutes before your next application, so your body temperature remains constant.

If your neck pain is severe and you feel relief from the heat therapy, you may want to repeat for 2 or 3 applications. However, always remember to leave breaks in between heat applications. This break is so your skin has time to return to the correct temperature.

How To Prevent And Treat Neck Pain

Neck Pain Heat Pad Therapy

For prevention, pay attention to how you sit, sleep, stand and move. For example, sleeping with your head in an awkward position—sitting in a seat that doesn’t support your lumbar region—remaining in one position for too long, or looking up at a screen. These aspects will need to be counteracted, otherwise you don’t have a full chance to recover and chronic discomfort will linger over your daily life.

These are some of the many ways we compromise our necks’ muscles daily, which causes neck strains, headaches and pain, and stiffness in the shoulders. Sometimes, leading to chronic neck pain and, in the worst-case scenario, degenerated bones in the neck. Trust me, when I say, you don’t want that.

At Intecore Physical Therapy, we specialize in finding the root cause of your neck pain. We find the source of your discomfort and work with you to treat and prevent it from reoccurring in the future. We’ve been helping patients, just like you, at our outpatient orthopedic and sports medicine rehab centers for many years.

If you would like to talk to one of our Physical Therapists about your neck pain, you can book a complimentary call here. For a more in-depth “taster session,” you can book a 30-Minute Discovery Visit at one of our family-friendly clinics. Meet your PT in person, view our facilities, and learn how we can help you treat your neck pain. The choice is yours.

We look forward to hearing from you, and getting you back to health!

Andrew Vertson
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