Why Do Heating Pads Help Cramps?
Almost every one of us experiences a muscle cramp at some point in our life. The pain that results from a cramp is mostly excruciating. Therefore, many people turn to thermotherapy for relief. One effective form of heat therapy is making use of heating pads. So why are these pads so effective? Why do heating pads help cramps?
People have been using heat therapy to help relieve spasms, muscle knots, cramps, and more for a very long time now. Along with physical exercise targeting a certain set of muscles that are specific for a movement, heat therapy is also highly beneficial.
What Are Cramps?
Any muscle that stays tensed after undergoing forcible contraction can be referred to as a muscle cramp. Muscles that are under voluntary control like the limb muscles contract and relax only when we want them to. When we walk, run, pick up objects, and make any sort of precise movement, our brain coordinates with these muscles to send out signals for movement.
Even though the muscles receive signals from the brain, they are still under voluntary control. This means that even after our brain tells us what to do, it is completely in our control to move the limb muscles or not. Due to this, we can see accuracy in movement.
When a muscle starts cramping, the movement is involuntary. Thus, we have no control over the movement. Negligible control over your muscle movement leads to a tensed muscle that repeatedly contracts.
Are Cramps and Spasms Same?
Now that we are talking about involuntary movements, you might have come across the word spasm. Are cramps and spasms the same thing? How are cramps and spasms different from each other?
In simple words, we can say that the progression of spasm results in a cramp. When a group of muscle fibers undergoes contraction that is not under voluntary control, it is called a spasm.
A cramp, on the other hand, results from a sustained spasm. If the spasm becomes forceful and lasts long, then we call it a cramp. Muscle cramps often appear as the palpable hardening of the muscle involved.
Commonly Affected Muscles
Muscle cramps can affect any muscle of the body. However, the following skeletal (voluntary) muscles are affected in most cases.
- Hamstrings (back of thigh)
- Quadriceps (thigh)
- Gastrocnemius (calves)
Smooth (involuntary) muscles of the body, such as blood vessel walls, bowels, uterus, bronchial tree, and more may also undergo cramps. Cramps of the uterine wall, which are referred to as menstrual cramps, are reviewed further ahead in the article.
How Long Do Cramps Last?
Just like each individual has a different height, complexion, and behavior, the bodily functions are different from each person too. The duration of a muscle cramp can be anywhere between a few seconds to 15 minutes or sometimes even longer. A cramp might occur again after some time until it completely resolves.
In addition, a cramp can involve just one muscle throughout the course of contraction. However, it may sometimes also involve a group of muscles that are performing a single movement like flexing adjacent digits.
Causes of Cramps
There are numerous causes of cramps. Taking a look at the causes closely will help you better understand how heat therapy provides pain relief.
- Poor Blood Circulation
Poor circulation of blood to the muscles can cause cramps. This specifically affects the muscles that we use vigorously. Vigorous use needs a larger amount of energy.
When there is an oxygen deficit for the muscle, the muscle lacks enough energy to bring about proper, controlled movements. Thus, severe pain in the muscle due to an oxygen debt develops, which later leads to cramps.
You may experience muscle spasms following an injury. The spasm causes pain, which tends to limit movement in order to stabilize the injured area. This is commonly seen after an injury due to a broken bone.
- Vigorous Exercise
Many athletes encounter muscle cramps after they use their muscles in vigorous exercise. This is due to muscle fatigue. Similar cramps can also occur while you are lying or sitting in a fixed position for a longer duration of time.
Why Do Heating Pads Help Cramps?
We can get rid of cramps by using heating pads or over-the-counter pain relievers. However, the use of heating pads is becoming increasingly popular due to their effectiveness. Heating pads relax tensed muscles so that the forced contractions can ease. They are a great source for battling chronic muscle stiffness.
The muscle area heats up when you place a heating pad over it. Once the area is warm, it causes dilation of the blood vessel and promotes increased blood circulation, which, in turn, brings in more oxygen for the respiring muscle tissue. The increasing amounts of oxygen help to overcome muscle fatigue, improving the condition.
Another point in the argument of why do heating pads help cramps is that they attract a lot of chemicals or nutrition to the site of injury or fatigue. How does this happen? When the blood circulation increases, the blood cells notice a change in the normal biochemistry of the fluids surrounding the site of injury.
They stimulate the release of certain chemical factors. The factors help in bringing down the intensity of pain along with speeding up the healing process. These factors also work to restore the conditions of the muscle’s physiology, which tends to reverse the involuntary contractions.
Heating Pads for Menstrual Cramps
This is another very important aspect of relieving cramps. As discussed above, the smooth muscles of the uterine wall undergo involuntary, forcible contractions during menstruation.
Around 80% of women experience menstrual cramps at some point in their life. Thus, it shows how crucial these cramps are, since, for a lot of women, menstrual cramps occur every month.
Sometimes the cramps become so severe that they might hinder daily activities. Therefore, using heating pads significantly decreases the amount of pain that women have to bear.
Thermotherapy has been popular among people for a very long time, owing to its quick relief and healing process. Therefore, many people make use of heating pads whenever they encounter cramps.
Using heating pads offers rapid relief. Due to this, we recommend you to get one in case you don’t have it already at home.