Dec 2014 12


By: Dave Wheeler

Pic by Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee @


If you've got muscle aches and pains, one of the best things that you can do to ease the pain is to apply heat.


Relaxing overworked muscles

The nice thing about heat is that it can relax overworked muscles.

When muscles become overworked, or hypertonic, then applying heat can help relax the fibres.

You can buy reusable heat pads online from around £5 which you pop in the microwave to heat up, then apply to the affected area.

A cheaper alternative that's at least as good is old fashioned hot water bottle.

Which ever you choose make sure:

  1. you use a cloth (like a tea-towel) rather than apply the hot water bottle or the heat pad directly to your skin.
  2. make sure that whatever you use, it's not too hot - the aim is to warm your muscles, not to burn you!
  3. apply heat for 20 minutes, then remove - don't let the pad or bottle go cold, that'll undo the good effects.
  4. do this up to about 3 or 4 times a day as you need to.


What does heat do?

Heat dilates (widens, or open up) the blood vessels, helping with blood flow through the affected areas. Blood contains nutrients needed to heal.

Heat is also great for muscle spasm (like mild whiplash) when your muscles effectively go into protective mode and "splint" to protect the spine or joints. Gentle, repeated application of heat can tease the muscles into relaxing.


Shoulders and lower back

Heat can be used on any sore muscle areas, but the shoulders and lower back are particularly popular "hot spots" (forgive the pun).

For those of us who spend a lot of our days sitting at a desk or driving in a car, we often have our shoulders hunched rather than hanging comfortably down at our sides. This means that the muscles which pull the shoulders upwards (especially the levator scapula and upper trapezius) can become permanently tense. 

Draping a hot water bottle across your shoulder for 20 minutes in front of the TV might do you the world of good.

Similarly, if you get suffer from back ache, try putting a hot water bottle behind your back for 20 mins. Just one word of caution though - remember that the heat will relax the muscles, so whatever you do don't overstretch your back afterwards!


Pic by Ambro @


Heat and joints

Heat doesn't just work on muscles - some joint pain, including arthritis, can be relieved by heat.

Apart from increasing the circulation of blood in the ligaments, heat decreases the viscosity of the synovial fluid in the joint capsule - in plain English, the fluid that lubricates the joints flows more easily, decreasing pain.


When not to use heat

Heat can be a great source of comfort to tired and over-tense muscles and tendons, but there are some occasions when you really shouldn't use heat (use ice instead!):

  • Don't use heat within the first 48 hours of injuring a muscle, tendon or ligament (a sprain or a strain)
  • Don't use heat if there's swelling
  • Don't use heat on an open wound, or on stitches
  • Don't use heat if you've got diabetes
  • Don't use heat on any area that you've got a skin infection


If your muscles need more than heat to help your muscles, then as ever, give me a call.