The use of heat for treating tendonitis is a topic that requires careful consideration.
Tendonitis is an inflammation of the tendons, often caused by repetitive strain or overuse. The primary goal in treating tendonitis is to reduce inflammation and pain while promoting healing.
Let's take a closer look at whether heat is beneficial for this condition.
Is Heat Good for Tendonitis? Heat Therapy for Tendonitis
Yes but you must know when to use it.
Since both heat and ice can be used in the treatment of sprains, strains, or tendinitis, it can become a bit confusing for many.
Heat Is Not Recommended for Acute Phase: In the early, acute phase of tendonitis, heat is generally not recommended. This is because heat can increase blood flow and potentially worsen inflammation.
As a rule of thumb, ice therapy must be preferred in the early stages of tendinitis; it is especially useful during the first 72 hours. Not only does ice reduce pain sensation, but it also helps control inflammation.
Inflammation is our body's way to respond as a defense mechanism. It is necessary for complete recovery.
Ice therapy will not prevent inflammation, but it will help keep it in control.
For ice therapy, one can use a gel ice pack, or even a pack of frozen vegetables like a bag of peas would work well.
Apply an ice pack for about 15 minutes several times a day. In clinics, the specialist may use cryotherapy with the help of a particular apparatus.
Once that early phase is over and pain has subsided. It is time to start physical therapy, start moving, start doing exercises, stretching. However, before beginning physical therapy, it is advisable to use heat treatment to increase local blood flow and relax surrounding muscles.
3 Benefits of Using Heat for Tendonitis During Chronic Phase
If the condition persists, tendonitis can enter a chronic phase, where inflammation may decrease but pain and stiffness remain.
Below are three reasons why you will want to use heat therapy or a heating pad during this phase.
1.) Pain Relief: Heat can soothe chronic pain and muscle spasms around the affected tendon.
2.) Increases Blood Flow: Improved circulation from heat application can promote healing in the chronic phase.
3.) Improves Flexibility: Heat can help loosen stiff muscles and tendons, aiding in flexibility and mobility.
🔎(Discover our review of the Best Heating Pads on the market here)
Precautions to Take When Using Heat for Tendonitis
Avoid High Heat: Excessive heat can increase inflammation, especially in the acute phase.
Duration: Limit heat application to 15-20 minutes at a time to prevent skin irritation or burns.
Use a Barrier: Always use a layer (like a towel) between the heat source and your skin.
How Long to Apply Heat for Tendonitis
For treating tendonitis with heat therapy, the duration of application is an important factor to consider for both effectiveness and safety.
Generally, the recommended guidelines for heat application are as follows:
Duration: Apply heat for about 15 to 20 minutes at a time. This time frame is sufficient to increase blood flow and relax tissues without risking skin damage or other adverse effects.
Frequency: You can apply heat several times a day, but it's important to allow your skin to return to its normal temperature and check for any signs of irritation or burns before reapplying.
Does Deep Heat Help Tendonitis?
Deep heat, also known as therapeutic heat or deep tissue heating, can be helpful for some individuals with tendonitis, particularly during the chronic stages of the condition.
However, its effectiveness and appropriateness depend on various factors, including the phase of tendonitis, the specific tendon involved, and individual responses to heat therapy.
4 Ways Deep Heat Helps with Tendonitis
Pain Relief: Heat can provide relief from pain associated with chronic tendonitis by soothing muscle and joint discomfort around the affected tendon.
Improving Circulation: Deep heat increases blood flow to the affected area, which can promote healing by bringing nutrients and oxygen to the damaged tissues.
Reducing Stiffness: It can help in reducing stiffness and improving flexibility in the muscles and tendons surrounding the affected area, which is beneficial in the later stages of tendonitis.
Promoting Relaxation: Heat therapy can also promote relaxation of tight muscles, which might indirectly help in reducing pain and discomfort.
Does Heat Make Tendonitis Worse?
Using heat on tendonitis can potentially worsen the condition, especially if applied during the wrong stage of the injury. Understanding when to use heat is crucial for effective treatment.
When Heat Can Worsen Tendonitis
During Acute Inflammation: In the initial stages of tendonitis, typically the first 48-72 hours, the tendon is inflamed. Applying heat during this acute phase can increase blood flow and swelling, potentially exacerbating inflammation and pain.
Excessive Heat: High temperatures or prolonged heat application can lead to increased inflammation and discomfort, further aggravating the condition.
9 Quick Tips for Using Heat for Tendonitis
Tip # 1 - Right Timing: Use heat therapy primarily in the chronic phase of tendonitis, not immediately after injury. Avoid using heat during the first 48-72 hours post-injury.
Tip # 2 - Duration Matters: Apply heat for about 15-20 minutes per session. This is enough time to increase blood flow and relax tissues without overdoing it.
Tip # 3 - Moderate Temperature: Ensure the heat is warm but not too hot to prevent burns. It should be comfortable and soothing.
Tip # 4 - Skin Protection: Place a towel or cloth between the heat source and your skin to prevent direct contact and potential burns.
Tip # 5 - Type of Heat Source: Consider using a moist heat pack, heating pad, or warm bath. Moist heat often provides deeper penetration and more relief.
Tip # 6 - Frequency of Application: You can apply heat several times a day, but allow your skin to return to normal temperature between sessions.
Tip # 7 - Combine with Other Treatments: Pair heat therapy with other treatments like gentle stretching, physical therapy, or rest. Heat alone is usually not a complete treatment.
Tip # 8 - Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water, especially if using a heat source like a warm bath, to stay hydrated.
Tip # 9 - Check for Skin Changes: After using heat, check your skin for any signs of irritation or burns, especially if you have decreased skin sensitivity.
Infographic: Quick Tips - Heat Therapy for Tendinitis
Scan QR code to view or download our infographic.
1. William Charles McMaster, M.D.; (1977); A Literary Review on Ice Therapy in Injuries. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/036354657700500305
4. Physical Therapy for Tendinitis. https://ptsmc.com/about-us/treatments/tendinitis
5. Tendinitis - Diagnosis & Treatment. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tendinitis/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20378248