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Heat Treatments for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

Published on Mar 14, 2023 and last reviewed on May 16, 2023   -  4 min read


Heat is often utilized in physical therapy after exercise-induced delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). To learn more, read the article.


DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) is common for experienced and new athletes. Muscle sensitivity to pain can range from mild to extremely incapacitating. DOMS is the most common at the beginning of the athletic season when athletes start their training regimens after a break from competition. However, DOMS is especially frequent regardless of the season when athletes begin participating in particular sports. Heat is frequently applied during physical therapy to relieve muscle discomfort brought on by exercise (DOMS). Most heat therapies utilized in a clinical context for DOMS only last 5 to 20 minutes. This very low heat exposure results in little to no change in deep tissue temperature. Therefore, long-term dry chemical heat packs are used at home to gradually warm tissue, minimize possible heat damage, and lessen discomfort brought on by DOMS.

What Is DOMS?

DOMS is the term used to describe the stiffness, sensitivity, and decreased mobility of the muscles after exercise. The pain can be mild (a subtle, pleasant sensation) to severe depending on several factors, such as how hard one worked out and how fit one was, to begin with (loss of strength and even some swelling). In addition, genetics may influence even the level of pain. The majority of people experience DOMS symptoms eight hours after an exercise. However, it can happen sooner. The discomfort normally peaks 24 to 48 hours after activity. Overall, DOMS normally lasts three to five days, although one should notice that the stiffness starts to subside after the first few.

How and When to Utilize Heat Treatment?

  • Heat treatment widens blood vessels and encourages blood flow; it should be warm, not hot. Sore muscles are soothed and helped to "open up" by doing this.

  • Increased circulation helps the muscles receive more oxygen and nutrients while removing lactic acid, which is necessary for muscle repair.

  • Only 24 hours after exercising, research has shown that heat treatment can cut delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) by up to 47 %.

  • However, heat should be avoided in other situations: Although heat is frequently ineffective for healing injuries, it is the greatest option for alleviating muscular soreness brought on by exercise.

  • In addition, heat therapy might hasten the inflammatory process after a recent injury.

  • It takes enough time for the warmth to get deep inside the muscles. Often, muscles feel more relaxed the longer the heat is given.

  • The kind and severity of the injury determine the precise length of time for applying heat.

  • Brief sessions of 15 to 20 minutes are sufficient for minor back discomfort; longer sessions of up to 30 minutes may be recommended for persistent illnesses or excruciating pain.

  • The most important factor in choosing a heat treatment is a personal choice. For instance, moist heat usually works better when the body fat percentage is more than 25 % of the body weight.

  • The best product or service may be discovered via trial and error and experimentation with the wide range of possibilities that are accessible.

What Are the Types of Heat Treatments?

Heat treatment is divided into two major types.

Dry Heat Therapy:

  • Heating pads, dry heating packs, and even saunas are examples of dry heat sources.

  • It also goes by the term "conducted heat treatment."

  • It is simple to administer this heat.

  • Dry heat therapy services are typically selected because of their stable temperatures, ease of use, portability, and convenience.

Moist Heat Therapy:

  • Hot baths, wet heating pads, and steaming towels are a few examples of sources of moist heat.

  • It is often known as "convection heat."

  • For the same objectives, moist heat may be more efficient and need less application time.

  • Products and services are often favored over dry heat to penetrate deeper into muscle tissues and increase blood flow.

How Does Dry Heat Differ From Moist Heat?

  1. The most popular forms of superficial heat therapy are moist and dry heat. Nonetheless, wet heat penetrates the tissue more deeply into the same temperatures than dry heat.

  2. Moreover, moist heat can quickly modify tissue temperature and elicit a stronger reaction from temperature sensors. As a result, patients frequently claim that moist heat alleviates their symptoms more.

  3. With increased blood flow to the injured region, moist heat can hasten healing. In addition, this improved circulation brings in new blood and removes wastes that can hinder recovery.

  4. When compared to dry heat, wet heat offers several advantages:

    • To heat deeper tissues, moist heat is preferable to dry heat.

    • At the same temperature, moist heat penetrates more deeply than dry heat.

    • The ability of moist heat to quickly modify tissue temperature and elicit an active response from temperature sensors increases.

    • Patients frequently remark that wet heat provides more symptom alleviation.

What Are the Safety Measures Observed When Utilizing Heat Therapy?

  1. Heat aids in blood flow and muscular relaxation. However, although it helps loosen up tense muscles, it worsens an injury's pain and swelling.

  2. Heat treatment should not be used for those who have circulation issues, are unconscious, cannot feel or respond to heat, or are pregnant (for example, in paralysis). In addition, be careful to avoid skin injury or burning.

  3. If someone takes sleep-inducing medication or the region being treated is numb, use caution when applying heat.

  4. Initially, only use the heat treatment for ten to fifteen minutes. Then, ten minutes per hour to two hours could work.

  5. Wait at least twenty-four hours when applying heat to skin that has been cut, bruised, used for an injection, or exposed to any "invasive" operation.


During exercise-induced delayed onset muscle pain, heat is frequently employed in physical therapy (DOMS). Blood arteries are widened, and blood flow is promoted by heat therapy; it should be warm, not hot. By doing this, sore muscles are relieved and assisted to "open up." Moist heat may permeate the skin faster and deeper than dry heat (such as that provided by electric heating pads and heat wraps), reaching the muscle directly. Research comparing the two forms of heat therapy found that wet heat reduced pain more quickly than dry heat. Also, as moisture helps to promote tissue flexibility, there is a decreased likelihood of skin irritation. The dry heat can deliver a more constant degree of warmth for longer. Some consider it to be more practical and user-friendly as a consequence.

Article Resources

Last reviewed at:
16 May 2023  -  4 min read




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