Heat Therapy Tip Sheet

Document created by tfreiberg Employee on Dec 27, 2016Last modified by Mary Aycock on May 3, 2018
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Heat can be used to help relieve pain. It’s especially effective for sore, stiff, muscle or joint pain. Heat relaxes tight muscles and spasms. For heat to be effective it must penetrate down into the muscles – just increasing the temperature of the skin is not enough. Heat can be applied dry or moist – it’s your preference.


Supplies you will need

  • Thin dry towel
  • Warm, wet towels or washcloths
  • Heating pad
  • Plastic (for example a Ziplock bag or small garbage bag)


What to do

Moist heat can be applied with warm, wet towels or washcloths. Plastic can be placed over the towel or wash cloth to keep clothes and bedding dry.


A heating pad can be a good source for dry heat. Only use an electric pad on low or medium settings. Limit use to 15-20 minutes at a time. Protect the skin from injury by placing a thin dry towel or other cloth under the heating pad. In order to prevent burns or skin damage, do not sit or lie down on the heating pad. Check the skin under the heating pad at intervals for signs of burning, like blisters or bright red skin that doesn’t return to normal color.


Special instructions

  • Heat should not be used on an open wound or if swelling or bruising is present.
  • Do not use heat if you have poor circulation or numbness due to diabetes or other condition.
  • Do not use heat over a blood clot or if you have a bleeding disorder.
  • Caution and supervision is required for heat application for someone who is not alert or is cognitively impaired.


Patients using some medications need to be especially careful using heat therapy. Please discuss further with your hospice team.