Heat – the great healer
History of Therapeutic Heat
Therapeutic heat has long been practiced in all parts of the world. The effectiveness of the healing qualities existed long before the mechanics of heat therapy was understood. The American Indians so revered hot springs that the land near the spring was considered a neutral zone. Even warring tribes respected this strong medicine and laid down their arms when they were near the medicinal springs.
Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, used hydrotherapy as a primary healing agent. His patients were positioned so that clay dams could be built around the injured or painful part of the body and hot water was poured into the dammed-in area.
The use of heat as a therapeutic medium continues today throughout the world. While the physiological effects of heat are now understood on a more scientific level, heat therapy has lost none of its effectiveness.
Hot water bottles work very well and are still used regularly all over the world, and are particularly popular in Great Britain. Due to the size and volume limitations of conventional hot water bottles, it is easy to see how the Fomentek bags with the improved technology, materials, size, and capacity, offer a tremendous improvement over the old standard.
Moist Heat and Conductivity
We often hear that “moist heat” is better than “dry heat” to relieve pain. Let’s dispel any notions that the moisture content of a fomentation device determines its therapeutic quality. It is important to understand that inside the body everything is moist. The term “moist heat” actually has more to do with how well the heating medium transfers heat into the body through conduction rather than whether the medium is actually wet.
If a person opens a pre-heated 350°F oven and sticks their hand in for three seconds then pulls it out, heat will be felt, but there is no likelihood that three seconds in this environment would cause injury. Now let’s take the same oven and the same hand, but instead of just sticking the hand into the oven, imagine grabbing a hot oven rack for three seconds. Third-degree burns would occur. The 350ºF temperature is shared by both the air inside the oven and the steel rack. The steel burned the hand because it is a solid whereas the air is a gas. Stationary hot air does not conduct heat as well as hot steel.
When a person lies on a dry flannel-covered heating pad, the body is in contact with dry cotton fibers. The skin is bridged over dry stationary air space and supported by a small percentage of the total area. Now imagine that the flannel heating pad cover is moist. Hot wet flannel has many times the contact area and thus more conductive because water conducts heat far more efficiently than dry cotton. Let’s take our scenario a little further by imagining that we remove the flannel outer covering (pillowcase) from the heating pad exposing the hot plastic pad cover. The plastic surface of the electric heating pad is about 140°F. OUCH!
These examples help us to understand that it is not the moisture itself that assists therapeutic heat transfer, but how well the substance in contact with the body conducts heat.
The Fomentek bag, filled with warm water, has the conductive properties of a solid with the heat-retaining qualities of water.
Physiologic Effects of Therapeutic Heat
Heating the muscles has the effect of increasing blood flow by increasing the metabolic rate and thus the demand for new blood. The application of heat also causes the vascular tissue (veins, arteries, and lymph vessels) to dilate. The influx of more blood and the elimination of cellular waste products from the interstitial fluid into the lymphatic system and ultimately into the veins cause relaxation of the muscles on a deep level.
Heat therapy also relieves pain by tapping into the body’s parasympathetic nervous system causing the release of endorphins, the body’s own “feel good” pain relief hormones.
Heat therapy allows for pain relief in a third way; interference with pain transfer mechanisms. Sensory pathways for pain and temperature are shared and when the heat message occupies these pathways, the pain message becomes distorted and the pain diminished.
Fomentek Bag vs. Red Rubber Hot Water Bottle
It is imperative that the Fomentek™ Bag user understand the differences between this product and the traditional (old-time) red rubber hot water bottle.
The red rubber hot water bottle is typically filled with very hot water, often from a boiling kettle, and then capped and wrapped in a dry towel before being placed against the body.
The Fomentek Bag, however, comes into direct contact with the skin and that means that the temperature of the filled Fomentek Bag is the exact same temperature the body will experience.
The Fomentek Bag is used directly against the skin at much lower temperatures.
Fomentek Bags should never be used with scalding water, only comfortably warm water no hotter than 113.7ºF (45.4ºC.)
Sickle Cell Anemia Pain Crisis Management
Sickle Cell Anemia is a complex disease and patients should discuss this adjunct treatment with the treating physician before using a Fomentek Bag.
Heating the painful area with a warm Fomentek Bag causes the blood vessel to dilate (enlarge) and the blood flow to increase.
Sickle-shaped blood cells are actually shaped like bananas instead of the normal American football shape. A Pain Crisis occurs when the blood flow, usually within a localized area, diminishes. This compromised blood flow is due to the banana-shaped blood cells hanging onto each other. The pain is similar to the pain felt when a person sits on their leg for a long time and feels “pins and needles” followed by deep pain in the area. A person without Sickle Cell Disease can simply move around and the pain stops. A person with Sickle Cell Disease does not even have to do anything to cause a Pain Crisis. To make matters worse, the affected person can move and shake all they want but the area remains painful because the blood cells hang onto each other and do not flow well.
To illustrate what is happening, imagine that a slow-moving river has thousands of crooked logs that are headed downstream. There comes a time when the logs simply will not move along. A remedy would be to double the amount of water in the river. This added water would serve to raise the water level along the river banks and the river would begin to flow, carrying the crooked logs along.