Like all therapeutic treatments, thermal (hot) therapy has some risks and possible complications.
Potential Risks of Heat Therapy
There are a number of contraindications when it comes to working with heat therapy solutions, but they are generally straightforward to recognize. The risk of overheating is quite reactive, as there are four notable dangers to watch out for with heat-based therapies.
- Skin rash or burn. Prolonged use of hot packs and heating pads, or using an overly hot heat source with no barrier on the skin, may cause contact burns. A rash or burn that takes on a distinctive web shape and is burned red or dark is called erythema ab igne. While erythema ab igne usually fades after cold therapy is discontinued, a biopsy may be required to detect precancerous cells. Finally, excessive alcohol intake or overhydration in a sauna could cause unconsciousness, which can lead to severe burns that damage muscle tissue and raise your risk of kidney damage.
- Decreased blood pressure. Symptoms of orthostatic hypotension such as dizziness or lightheadedness are minimized by even a single session of heat therapy. Sudden decreases in blood pressure that are often the result of orthostatic hypotension can make heat therapy an uncomfortable process for some people.
- Increased heart rate. The heart has to work more quickly to counteract the function of the heart to more rapidly circulating blood to the heated border. Increased heart rate returns to baseline conditions once heat treatment is discontinued or stopped. Generalized risk factors such as arrhythmia may increase during treatment.
- Increased swelling and inflammation. Heat treatment advice is not given just before or after physical exercise, after injury, or during an illness. The heat worsens the pain and prolongs the healing process if used when tissues are damaged or infected.
Various dangers may be more or less threatening at different points of the year. For example, blood pressure is lower in the summer, which results in symptoms of orthostatic hypotension or cardiac arrest.
Some of the risks associated with heat therapy may not be listed here. Heat therapy needs to be performed as recommended and for these durations to negate whatever increased risk there might be.
7 Potential Contraindications for Heat Therapy
Assessing overall wellness prior to using the variety of heat treatments that have become available is advisable. As an example, swelling or bruising in the lower back could necessitate an ice pack to reduce the swelling, rather than a hot pack. Intense physical activity or stress on the skin is contraindicated before at least 4 hours have passed from exposure to steam. In addition, certain skin conditions, such as diabetes, may make your skin more sensitive and preclude heat treatments (or certain styles of heat treatments ) as a recommended option. Consult with your physician if you have any concerns regarding these contraindications.
The application of heat is considered unsuitable in the presence of the following health conditions:
Skin conditions that include dermatitis or contact dermatitis can be worsened by hot temperatures and low humidity, which makes dry heat treatment in particular conducive to outbreaks. Rashes typically disappear within 2 to 3 weeks when the heat treatment is ended and special skin treatments are introduced.
2. Deep vein thrombosis
A blood clot inside a vein may create circulation problems. A person will usually receive a heating pad to decrease symptoms, but the warmth can instead exacerbate the swollen vein and cause intense pain. Increased blood flow caused by warmth therapy could cause clots to enter vital organs, such as the brain or the lungs. These clots may cause irreparable harm to vital organs.
3. Chronic heart failure
Heart disease, including chronic heart failure, prevents the body from easily increasing blood flow to the skin and sweating in response to heat. In this circumstance, cardiac illnesses can even improve, including hypertension. Patients with cardiovascular issues need to gradually bring their body temperature down after heat therapy. A cool shower after a steam bath, for example, is superior to jumping into an ice bath.
High temperatures tend to dehydrate the body and increase the glucose levels in our blood. Alternatively, more blood flow to the muscles with heat therapy contributes to glucose, which then decreases our blood glucose levels in the bloodstream. The influence of heat on blood glucose levels may have adverse effects on patients suffering from diabetes. However, research suggests that being in a hot environment, such as a sauna, can have a beneficial effect on the healing process of diabetic ulcers.
5. Peripheral vascular disease
Sometimes also called peripheral arterial occlusive disease, this condition is aggravated by heat. However, research shows that frequent spa bathing may decrease resting blood pressures and may improve a person’s ability to walk long distances.
6. Open wound
Applying heat to an open wound usually hastens the healing process. It may also increase the flow of blood to the injury site and possibly increase bleeding.
7. Severe cognitive impairment
Dementia can impair the ability to prevent leaving a sauna and keep track of how long it is since you walked in. It is also worth noting that warm therapy isn’t always compatible with alcohol consumption, which has led to the extremely rare instance of death in saunas.
Patients with any of these conditions can further discuss the risk of moderate forms of heat therapy, as well as safer alternatives, with a doctor.