Heat Therapy

One of the most commonly experienced symptoms of endometriosis is pelvic pain.1 This pain can accompany a woman’s menstrual period and take the form of severe cramping. Endometriosis-related pain can also accompany sex or bowel movements, or can be chronic (long-term) without an apparent trigger. Endometriosis-related pain and cramping can negatively impact a woman’s quality of life, and finding ways to manage it may be imperative.2,3 Home remedies for pain management may help reduce cramping and pelvic or abdominal discomfort, and can often be used in addition to traditional treatment options for endometriosis. One such home remedy is the use of heat (sometimes referred to as thermotherapy).

Heat therapy may help provide relief from cramping or pain, and can take on various forms. Moist heat can come in the form of warm baths, warm wet towels, or moist heating packs. Dry heat can come from electric heating pads or dry heating packs. Moist heat often penetrates the skin and muscles faster than dry heat, making it potentially more advantageous than dry heat over shorter periods of time.1,4,5 Heating products have previously been used exclusively at home, however, discrete and easy to carry heat packs to take on the go have emerged in recent years.

Using heat therapy is a personal process, as each woman experiencing pain relief with heat may do so in different ways. For example, one woman may respond well to warm baths, while another may only respond to electric heating pads. It’s also possible for some women to not experience any pain relief from heat at all.

How heat might help reduce pain

The exact mechanism by which heat might reduce endometriosis-related pain and cramping is not known. Heat has several potential pain-reducing properties such as increasing circulation, opening up blood vessels, healing damaged tissue, relaxing muscles, affecting pain receptors in the body, and more. Additionally, heat can sometimes lead to stress relief. This reduction in stress may also contribute to pain relief.4,5

Things to note about heat therapy

Heat therapy is not for everyone, and different heat therapy options may have different time limits that they can be used for. Although heat therapy is often considered a home remedy, it is important to check in with your provider before regularly using heat therapy for your endometriosis pain. This is to determine what kinds of heat therapy might be beneficial for you, and how long you can use them for at a time. Some heat therapies may only be used for a maximum of 20 minutes or less, especially when they are directly touching the skin. While other modalities, such as a warm bath, may be taken for one to two hours depending on the temperature of the water. Individuals with sensitive skin or who are prone to burning should not use heat therapy unless approved to do so by their provider.

Heat therapy is not for all injuries or ailments. For example, heat therapy should not be used for bruises or on areas with heavy bleeding. Heat therapy can increase blood flow to these areas. Instead, cold therapy, such as ice packs, should be used in these situations.

Written by: Casey Hribar | Last reviewed: June 2018
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