Deep heat is a treatment for injury and pain. Heat is delivered 2 inches or more below the skin surface into tissues and muscles. The heat brings more blood to the treated area. It can help your body heal and may lessen pain.
Deep heat may be used to treat a number of problems, such as:
Deep heat treatment is usually not given until several days after an injury, when there is less inflammation and swelling.
Deep heat treatments should not be used if you have:
Deep heat treatments are not done on areas above the eye or around the heart, or if you are pregnant.
The 3 main types of deep heat treatment are:
Shortwave and microwave diathermy treatments use electromagnetic energy. The energy creates heat as it goes deep into the muscles and other tissues. These treatments are often used for heating large areas of the body. Before you have treatment with diathermy, you must remove all metal objects, including jewelry, glasses, and hearing aids. Towels are usually placed between you and the heating unit. Treatments last about 15 minutes and may be given 2 to 3 times per day for 3 to 14 days.
Ultrasound heats a smaller area of the body than diathermy. An ultrasound unit sends sound waves into the tissue being treated. The sound energy changes to heat energy. Muscle tissue, ligaments, and tendons absorb this form of energy very well. Each treatment lasts 5 to 15 minutes, depending on the size of the area being treated.
Heating large areas of the body can sometimes make you feel dizzy or nauseous. It might also irritate your skin. You will be checked for these problems after the treatment before you go home.
The high temperatures can sometimes damage tissue. During ultrasound therapy, bony areas with little soft tissue (such as the hands, feet, and elbows) can get too hot. Short waves and microwaves may also cause hot spots. This can cause pain and tissue damage.
Talk with your provider about whether this treatment will be helpful for you. Ask your healthcare provider what symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them. Be sure to discuss any other questions or concerns that you may have.