Thermotherapy is the application of heat therapy or cold (cryotherapy) with the purpose of changing the core temperature of soft tissue thereby improving the symptoms of certain conditions. Thermotherapy and Cryotherapy are useful additions for the treatment of musculoskeletal injuries and soft tissue injuries. Using ice or heat as a therapeutic intervention decreases pain in the joints and muscles, as well as soft tissues. Thermotherapy can be used in rehabilitation facilities or at home. Your physio will recommend a suitable time, placement and duration of either heat therapy or cryotherapy.

Purpose of Thermotherapy

The aim of thermotherapy is to alter tissue temperature in a specific area over time for the purpose of inducing a desired biological response in the tissues.


By increasing the temperature of the skin/soft tissue, the blood flow increases by vasodilation (dilation of blood vessels in the area), which in turn increases oxygen uptake and accelerates tissue healing.


  • By decreasing the temperature of the skin/soft tissue, the blood flow decreases by vasoconstriction (constriction of blood vessels), causing the tissue metabolism, inflammation and nerve conduction rate to decrease.
  • If the cold compress is left on for longer than 10 minutes, vasodilatation follows and this will prevent hypoxic damage (cell death), known as Hunting Reflex.

How is Thermotherapy done?


  • In order to heat the superficial tissues, we can use hot packs, wax baths, warm towels, sunlight, saunas, heat wraps and steam baths/rooms. We can also get the heat into the deeper tissues through electrotherapy (ultrasound, shockwave and infrared radiation).
  • Heat may be used to reduce pain, stiffness, muscle spasms and general relaxation. It has been found to be effective in the following conditions:


  • Cooling is achieved using ice packs, ice baths, cooling gel packs, cold air and sprays.
  • Cold may be applied for acute pain (within the first 72 hours of injury), sprains, swelling and to assist in initial  post-operative healing

This article was submitted by Kate Lamprey Associate Manager at the Fourways and Douglasdale Practices of Lamberti Physiotherapy. Contact her directly to discuss any concerns you may have, or else complete our handy appointment form.



  1. Fredrikus GJ, O. J. (1994). Treating Arthritis with Locally Applied Heat or Pain. Elsevier, 82-90.
  2. Physiopedia. (n.d.). https://www.physio-pedia.com/Thermotherapy. Retrieved from Physiopedia.com: https://www.physio-pedia.com/Thermotherapy