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Dry Heat VS Moist Heat – Which is Better?

Heat therapy can be very beneficial if used correctly. Ideal for a variety of problems ranging from chronic lower back pain to stiff muscles, heating therapy products are often preferred over more invasive types of treatment. They are also used to supplement other types of pain treatments. However, if used incorrectly, the pain could actually worsen.

You’ve probably aware of many of the products out there, including heating pads, wraps, heating towels, electric heating pads , heat/ice ointments, etc. but which ones really work? Do any of them really offer pain relief?

There are two types of heat therapies: dry and moist. There is a difference between the two, and you need to understand that differences between the two.

Before analyzing the two, however, you should first be absolutely certain that you need heating therapy rather than cold therapy.

When NOT to Use Heat Therapy

  • On open wounds
  • On any type of swelling
  • If you have a medical condition such as diabetes
  • On bruising
  • On a freshly pulled muscle
  • Any part of the skin that is red and inflamed

See more here: Electrical Heat Pack Safety Precautions & Contraindications

Dry Heat Therapy

Dry heat sources draw moisture out of the skin. The upside is that many people find it very easy and convenient to use. The downside is that it could potentially dehydrate skin. Many dry heat treatment products are electric. There are also dry heat saunas. If you have a dry skin problem, it might be best to stick with moist heat, as you wouldn’t want to risk dehydrating your skin.

If you do find that you like the way dry heat feels on your skin, make sure you keep it at a moderate temperature. If it seems to dry your skin out, limit the frequency of use or switch to moist heat.

Using an electrical Heat Pack

Many people use electrical heat packs for dry heat therapy - in fact I'd been using and prescribing it as a hand therapist since 2011/2012. If you are going to use one, do not exceed medium temperature, as you will risk burning yourself (even if you like it hotter, I recommend you place an additional layer of towel for extra safety). Never use a dry electrical heating pack on direct skin or for more than thirty minutes or so at a time.

Moist Heat Therapy

Moist heat is less likely to cause skin dehydration. It comes in many forms, including steam towels, hot baths, moist heating packs, etc. It helps to increase tissue elasticity, making it ideal for patients with dry and/or aging skin. Most experts recommend moist over dry heat. Not only is there less of a concern for skin irritation, it is also able to penetrate more deeply into the skin.

Using a Moist Hot Pack

These hot packs are typically wrapped in several layers of towels in order to prevent burning. They can be applied onto the problem area for up to twenty minutes. Any redness they may cause should go away within six hours. Reusable electrical heat packs are the most ideal in my opinion, and will save you money in the long run.

It is not recommended to use a microwave to reheat a heating pad or wrap. It’s best to use hot water. Electrical heat packs are powered by electricity and hence the heat will be consistent and ongoing (need not be reheated).



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