Merck Manual

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Types of Heat Therapy

Types of Heat Therapy





Heat applied to the body’s surface

Infrared heat

Heat applied with a lamp, usually less than 20 minutes a day

Care needed to avoid burns

Not used in people with an implanted metal device or reduced skin sensation (particularly to temperature and pain)

Arthralgia (joint pain)

Arthritis (various forms)

Back pain


Muscle spasm

Myalgia (muscle pain)

Neuralgia (nerve pain)



Tenosynovitis (inflammation of tendons and their covering)

Whiplash injuries

Hot packs

Cotton cloth containers filled with silicate gel, usually warmed in a microwave oven

Can be wrapped in a towel to protect the skin from burns

Same as for infrared heat

Paraffin bath

Dipping in, immersion in, or painting with melted wax

Usually applied to small joints, such as those of the hand, knee, or elbow

Not used for open wounds


Immersion in agitated warm water in a large industrial whirlpool

Enhances wound healing by stimulating blood flow and helping clean out burns and wounds

Relaxes muscles and relieves pain

Heat applied to deep tissues


High-frequency sound waves to penetrate deep into tissues, vibrating them and producing heat, which draws blood (with oxygen and nutrients) to the area

Not applied to tissues whose blood supply has been reduced (ischemia), numbed or actively infected areas, bones that are healing, or certain parts of the body (such as the eyes, brain, spinal cord, ears, heart, or reproductive organs)

Not used in people with a tendency to bleed or cancer

Bone injuries


Complex regional pain syndrome