“Unless the injury is acute and there’s inflammation, apply heat.” This is what I was told on an advanced massage course, and it’s true: most patients, particularly those with muscular skeletal problems, love heat. (Although there are people who feel hot all the time and won’t let you go near them with heat).
Heat is an important part of a Chinese Medicine’s arsenal of healing. It’s mainly in the form of moxibustion: the burning of the herb artemisia, usually in stick of loose form, on a needle or close to the skin. Moxibustion is very penetrating, warming right down to the skeletal structures.
In Chinese medicine, many musculoskeletal complaints are considered to be Bi Syndromes: when a ‘pathogen’ enters one of the meridians or channels and causes pain there. Often patients find their pain radiates in a line which corresponds to a meridian in Chinese medicine (for example, down the back or side of the leg with sciatica). There are different types of pathogens which can invade, but one of the most common is cold. In Chinese medicine symptoms of cold in a channel include: fixed, severe, biting pain with limitation of movement, which is alleviated by heat and made worse by cold.
Heat lamps are useful when treating patients with musculoskeletal injuries or poor circulation. Far Infrared (FIR) light (below the visible light spectrum) is becoming popular in the West for healing. FIR emissions are thought to penetrate deeply into the body, increasing microcirculation and thus delivering more oxygen and nutrients to injured cells while eliminating cellular waste (Journal of Chinese Medicine). Chinese medicine has specialised infrared devices called TDP lamps. These include a mineral plate heated to 466°C. The plate is made of iron and on top is a layer of 33 trace elements; the heat ionises these minerals and carries them 3.5 inches below the surface of the skin and into the muscles (Cupping Resource).