Why Does Heat Relax Your Muscles?
Most people that have attended a massage appointment with myself will have experienced the use of heat. The hot towel is very soothing, particularly after a sports massage and the hot stones are amazingly relaxing whilst they work their magic but there is a science behind their use.
Two problems that occur during exercise and activity where heat can be a huge help......
Exercise can be painful. As the cliché goes, “No pain, no gain.” When the body exerts itself during exercise, the muscles contract and relax at a tremendous rate - like a pump action. This puts a strain on the muscle fibres and creates microtears. These microtears can inevitably leave you feeling sore, stiff and a little achy. On the upside it is thought that these microscopic traumas could help you to build muscle mass. The body's response to any trauma is to send oxygenated blood and vital nutrients to that area to heal. In this case it stimulates muscle repair- the growth of new tissue which is why, over time you can build muscle mass. You could look at it as breaking muscle down to build it back up stronger but as a consequence of this you are temporarily left feeling a little worse for wear.
When heat is applied to a sore area of the body, blood vessels widen and blood flow increases to transport excess lactic acid and other toxins away from tired muscles. Muscles also become more elastic when heat is applied and nerve endings are stimulated to block pain signals helping to improve your overall comfort.
Not everyone has a towel heater so warm baths, moist towels, hot-water bottles, or heated pads could be utilised at home instead.
Heat isn’t ideal for all types of muscle soreness or pain!
If a muscle or area of the body is inflamed, hot to the touch and red in colour in addition to being sore then ice is recommended. Instead of widening blood vessels as heat does, ice narrows the blood vessels. This reduces the flow of blood to the area, helps to numb the area, reduce the pain and inflammation.