Heat packs have been considered as an effective way to properly manage the pain and swelling of normal aches and pains, joint inflammation and sports injuries. Continuous heat therapy is better in minimizing the pain and inflammation than medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
A heat pack can help increase the circulation, minimize stiffness of the joints, relieve muscle spasms and manage acute and chronic joint and muscle injuries. You can even prepare heat packs at home or simply buy commercial heat packs at any sports stores or pharmacies. If possible, it is best to keep one or two heat packs in the house so that one is readily accessible when needed.
Creating your own heat pack
- You can create your own heat pack at home by folding a small-sized, moist towel and place it inside a microwave for about 30 seconds. Unfold the towel and check for any hot spots before it is used. Depending on the oven as well as the thickness of the towel, you might need to heat it for more or less time. It is recommended to test the temperature of the heat pack by placing it against the inside of the arm.
- Always make sure that you will test to ensure that the skin is sensitive to heat by placing a cold and then a warm object on an area close to where the heat pack will be used. If the individual feels a difference between the cold and warm object, it is safe to use the heat pack.
- When a commercial heat pack is used, you have to wrap it in a soft towel in order to prevent burns. This is vital in areas where bone is close to the surface of the skin since the skin in these areas is thinner. You can leave the heat pack or towel in place for 20-30 minutes or the time span prescribed by the doctor.
- Alternate using the heat pack with a cold pack if instructed by the doctor. Alternative heat and cold therapy is beneficial for chronic musculoskeletal conditions such as arthritis.
- Assess the area of application for rash, red or purple skin discoloration, swelling and blisters after using the heat pack. This can indicate tissue damage, worsening of the condition or the pack used was too hot.
- Avoid using the heat pack on injuries that are less than 24 hours old or if there is still bleeding. Always bear in mind that heat increases the circulation and can make the bleeding and swelling even worse.
Depending on the heat pack used, it is vital to carefully the instructions stated on the packaging to prevent injuries. If in doubt on how to properly use a heat pack, it is best to consult a doctor.