Natural Pain Relief with Thermotherapy

natural pain relief

Written by Roger Morelli, Myotherapist

What is Thermotherapy?

Thermotherapy is the application of hot or cold interventions and can be an excellent natural pain relief option. 

Thermal therapies work by affecting the superficial, intra-articular (joint structures) and core temperature of soft tissues. Appropriate use of cryotherapy (decreasing temperature) and thermotherapy (increasing temperature) is useful for treating numerous musculoskeletal conditions and injuries, and providing natural pain relief. Ice or heat often decreases pain in muscles, tendons and joints.  These interventions have the opposite effects to each other on edema, blood flow, inflammation, cellular metabolism, and tissue tension.

Why would I use thermotherapy for natural pain relief?

The benefits of heat therapy

  • When the temperature of the skin/soft tissue increases – blood flow increases through an effect called vasodilatation. Vasodilation occurs in the capillaries – the smallest and most numerous blood vessels and means that the muscles in the walls of the vessels relax (like opening a tap to full) permitting more blood to travel through the vessel. As a result cellular metabolism increases.  In theory, this will increase the healing response by promoting inflammation – which may or may not be desirable for your injury.

The benefits of cold therapy

  • When the temperature of the skin/soft tissue decreases the blood flow slows down through a process called vasoconstriction. Tissue metabolism will also slow – neuronal excitability (nerve conduction – pain bandwidth), inflammation also reduce, as does tissue extensibility (structures tighten up). When joints decrease below 30°C the activity of cartilage damaging enzymes such as protease, hyaluronidase and elastase is inhibited.  A slow metabolic rate reduces further damage.

How do I use Thermotherapy?

The most common methods of applying heat to soft tissues are heat packs.  baths, saunas, and infra-red lamps.

The most common methods of applying cold to the tissues are frozen gel packs, ice baths, ice and coolant sprays.

What are the Effects?

THe effects of heat and cold are well documented and can be a natural pain relief option.

  • heat improves blood circulation and encourages relaxation in the muscles while decreasing stiffness in the joints(blood flow).
  • Cold usually decreases pain, swelling and slows down the metabolism.

What Conditions is Thermotherapy effective for?

You can gain natural pain relief using thermotherapy for many different conditions, some include

What Precautions should I take?

People with decreased sensation, such as diabetic neuropathy in the feet – are not advised to use thermo-therapies in the area with reduced sensitivity.  Burns can easily occur.


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