By Simone Barrance
Naturopath Adv. Dip Nat
With the winter months amongst us, the drop in temperature does not have to bring with it the dreaded muscle aches and pains. Here are some tips to help reduce muscle pain and tension in the colder months!
Heat therapy (also known as thermotherapy) is an effective, cheap and easy to use method in reducing pain, inflammation and muscle tension to help you get through the long, cold winter days.
Heat therapy can be broken down into two categories, both resulting in many ways to effectively heat your muscles and warm up in winter.
Here are a few ideas:
Local heat (specific area targeted)
Hot water bottle
Systemic heat (raises body temperature)
Hot bath / shower
Sauna / steam rooms
What makes heat so beneficial?
When heat is applied to the muscles, it naturally opens up the blood vessels which in turn increases blood flow and the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the area. It also stimulates the elimination of toxins that may have built up in the muscles over time which may be leading to dull aches and pains.
When to avoid heat!
Heat therapy should never be used on acute (new) injuries, and may actually cause further discomfort if done so, but instead applied only on injuries where the swelling has already subsided. Heat is especially useful for general lingering muscle aches and pains. The general rule is, if the area still feels hot, is red or inflamed try cold therapy and avoid the use of heat.
How to use heat therapy?
If you are suffering from a long term or ongoing injury, you may apply heat to the affected area PRIOR to exercise to help relax the muscles. If you then further injure your muscles whilst exercising use cold therapy after exercise to reduce acute inflammation.
Using heat creams and liniments!
Topical ‘heat’ rubs / liniments don’t actually heat the skin as you might think, but instead produce a counter-irritant effect which causes dilation of capillaries that then increases blood circulation and blood flow to the affected area. Counter-irritants are also thought to work temporarily by distracting the brain from the pain. These preparations are also known as rubefacients.
So why not take the time to have a nice long soak in the bath, visit a sauna or just get the hot water bottle down from the back of the cupboard and help warm up your muscles and avoid the winter aches and pains!