Moist Vs Dry Heat (Part 3 in our Use of Modalities Series)

So far we have covered the use of ice and dry heat to assist in the recovery process. When we look at heat we have to remember that there are 2 kinds. Dry heat which we covered in part 2, and moist heat which we will discuss here.

Dry heat is a very good way to get circulation into the affected area. However moist heat is much more penetrating, so it must be more effective. Or is it?

Whenever I’ve used moist heat pads (aka hydrocollators) my muscles have felt suppler than using dry heat or ice. By the way, hydrocollators found in a rehab setting are kept in water at 170 degrees and will retain this heat for 20-30 minutes. In fact at home, after very long runs I have turned to sitting in a tub of hot water to assist in my recovery.

But the debate continues. Clinical studies do not support the belief that moist heat is more effective than dry heat. Moist heat gives the perception that the tissue is being heated more deeply.

A study was held by the University of Texas to find out if moist heat was more effective increasing flexibility than static stretching. Results showed significant benefits to increase hamstring flexibility when using moist heat over static stretching.

Okay so there are great benefits to using moist heat.  But what about the debate of dry vs. moist heat? Is it a matter of perception?

No matter whether it is dry or moist, heat is going to increase circulation by acting as a vasodilator which will increase the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the area it is applied to.

In summary.  When looking for the correct modality to use for soreness, pulled muscles and other strains use ice for the first 72 hours and then heat after that. Ice will reduce inflammation and heat will increase circulation so that the proper nutrients and oxygen can get back into the area. This will allow you to continue to increase your conditioning and fitness levels according to your goals.

What about you? Have you found other sources to aid in your recovery?

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