Heat therapy is a very common modality used by any healthcare practitioner helping with musculoskeletal complaints, not just chiropractors. You may find this treatment available when visiting a massage therapist, physical therapist, or athletic trainer.
In our area, there are some clinics that utilize heat and electrical stimulation almost more prevalently than chiropractic adjustments (that’s not the case in our office). These are “feel good” therapies, but they do offer therapeutic benefit.
We utilize electric stimulation for reducing spasm and inflammation, but usually just for the first couple of visits until the adjustments have had a chance to do their job. Heat therapy would most often be used to relax the muscles that are in spasm or help the patient relax prior to their adjustment.
We no longer offer heat therapy in our office since determining that ice (also known as cryotherapy) is far more effective in decreasing spasm and inflammation, especially when paired with electrotherapy. This treatment combination is generally only done the first week or two of your chiropractic care, and only when the condition is more new (not chronic).
When dealing with the spine, we are very conscious of potential swelling, bulging, and herniations in the spinal discs. These discs have a “jelly” on the inside that responds to heat by swelling, which could potentially make the problem worse.
The “tricky” part is that most people prefer heat for nearly every condition. They will sleep with a heating pad on, apply “heat” ointments, and use the seat warmer in their car to help alleviate recurring back pain.
While ice may not give you the same “ahhh” feeling that heat provides, the effect will last longer and be far more beneficial than continuing to add heat to an already inflamed condition. In our office, you will never get a heating pad, and you will rarely hear us recommend that you use heat at home.