The physiological effects of heat and massage are very complimentary in the treatment of many types of soft tissue injuries and other conditions such as orthopedic, rheumatic, and neurologic disorders as well as certain post-surgical conditions. These two forms of therapy are therefore frequently applied together.
Physiologic Effects of Radiant Heat
Analgesic—This effect is the most frequent indication for the application of heat. Current thought suggests this effect is related to the gate control theory of pain modulation.
Antispasmodic—Heat is generally considered to produce a relaxation effect and reduction in muscle guarding. It also increases the elasticity of connective tissue which is an important consideration in treatment of post acute strains and sprains, and after long periods of immobilization.
Decongestive—Increased capillary blood flow is important in the treatment of many types of injury because it causes an increase in the supply of oxygen and other necessary nutrients and enzymes in addition to an increased clearing of metabolites.
Sedative—Heat helps decrease spasticity, tenderness and spasm.
Local vasodilation—Increases local metabolic rate (increased healing rate) and resultant additional heat.
Physiological Effects of Massage
Increases local blood supply to soft tissues, muscles and joints.
Increased drainage and reduction of swelling in soft tissue, muscle, and periarticular regions.
Muscle relaxation and reduction in muscle guarding.
Increased venous and lymphatic return augmenting reduction of edema.
Prevents adhesions and fibrosis in muscles, ligaments and contiguous tissues.
Decreased tendency towards muscle atrophy during long periods of immobilization or disuse.
Pain reduction and interruption of pain sensation cycle resulting in increased ease of mobility.