Use of thermal stimulation with heat or cold

In the age-old tradition of Ayurveda, methods involving the use of heat or cold have been used for thousands of years to generate multiple beneficial health maintenance and restoration effects.

In the case of the human body, heat and cold act not only directly on the skin. The muscles, blood vessels, heart, blood circulation, nerves, metabolism and hormonal system react reflexively to the stimulation that is achieved by temperature, either hot or cold.

This type of different heat stimulation, hot or cold, has been used for thousands of years in hot or cold water treatments, hot or cold wraps, poultices and hot or cold compresses applied to different areas of the body, or hot or ice water bottle applications. Such procedures are often applied separately or in combination with other natural methods precisely to relieve and help cure a wide range of ailments or diseases. Today, all these methods make up what is known as thermotherapy.

Examples of thermotherapy procedures

Examples of practical methods of thermotherapy are numerous: a hot bath taken when we feel a cold coming on, the application of a hot water bottle to the abdomen by a woman suffering from menstrual pain, the topical application of cold water immediately after a burn, the application of an ice pack immediately after a blow. Almost everyone knows and uses the beneficial effects of hot and cold in everyday life. Simple methods in thermotherapy have been used both in the home and in physiotherapy for hundreds and thousands of years. Traditional methods such as compresses, wraps, showers, steams and baths are suitable for use both at home and in natural treatment clinics, spa centres and psycho-therapeutic.

Modern thermotherapy procedures, such as whole-body cryotherapy or ultrasound treatments, are carried out in specialised clinics or modern rehabilitation centres.

Practical thermotherapy methods are classified according to the nature of the thermal agent, in which case we have hot thermotherapy methods or cold thermotherapy methods, and according to the influence on the body, in which case we have local or general thermotherapy methods.

Warm thermotherapy (ushna-kriya)

Heat provides energy to the body. Heat dilates the blood vessels, so blood circulation increases. Heat improves the oxygen supply to the cells, so metabolic products can be transported faster. Heat reduces increased muscle tone, relieves pain, eliminates muscle cramps and activates the immune system. Warm thermotherapy (ushna-kriya) also has a calming effect on the psyche, an effect that occurs every time we take a warm bath in the tub, for example.

The most commonly used form of heat amplification by hot thermotherapy (ushna-kriya) takes place with hot or warm water, in the form of partial or full baths, showers or hot water jets, hot compresses, poultices and hot water bottles. Heat thermotherapy methods (ushna-kriya) dilates the blood vessels, stimulates circulation and relaxes the body.

Often, in the practice of hot thermotherapy (ushna-kriya) additional "heat conductors" are used to achieve an intense effect. These includeso-called mud, clay or slime compresses, but also compresses with various herbs soaked in warm water or soft plant parts, for example onions or potatoes, or the application of honey or wax.

Other modalities of warm thermotherapy (ushna-kriya) are heat radiators, hot air and electric heating pads, and hot air and hot steam from aa sauna. After the tissue warms up, the blood vessels dilate and then relax. Sweating has another beneficial effect, namely the cleansing of toxic metabolic products and pathogens.

A modern method of warm thermotherapy (ushna-kriya) is ultrasound therapy, which stimulates circulation, activates metabolism, unblocks, prevents inflammation and relieves pain. When ultrasound is absorbed by human tissue, heat is produced, which is used for treatment.

Another method of warm thermotherapy (ushna-kriya) is the procedure of warming up the whole body inan infrared cabin. This method contributes to the general relaxation of the body and helps to increase the body's defences and relieve muscle and joint pain.

Cold thermotherapy (shita-kriya)

The cold takes away body heat. The low temperature and the cold in general ensure a slowing down of the metabolism, a slowing down of the reaction speed of the nerve pathways and a decrease in the tension in the muscles. In addition, the cold acts as a pain reliever, haemostatic, eases inflammation and reduces oedema. Even when cold contributes to vasoconstriction and thus to a decrease in blood circulation, an increase in blood circulation can be achieved with it.

Forms of cold thermotherapy (shita-kriya) are varied. The most commonly used medium for cold thermotherapy (shita-kriya) is cold water. There are methods of cold thermotherapy (shita-kriya) performed with cold water jets, cold showers, partial baths, immersion pools, cold water walking and partial and local cold baths. Compresses and wraps are used for local cooling, for example a cold cottage cheese wrap is used against sunburn.

Cold thermotherapy (shita-kriya) constricts blood vessels, slows inflammation and reduces pain. In addition to classical applications such as baths or wraps, cold rooms are often used.

Today, the use of ice in therapy is called cryotherapy. For outpatient therapy, ice packs are used, cold applications for local cooling or defrosting, e.g. for oedema, haemorrhages and joint pain. In some clinics, cryotherapy applied to the whole body is used for certain illnesses by perfectly controlled standing for 1 to 3 minutes ina cold room with an ambient temperature down to -120 degrees Celsius.

This kind of cold thermotherapy (shita-kriya) helps, for example, in rheumatic joint inflammations, in case of muscle contractures, in case of menstrual pain, in joint and spinal wear and tear, sciatica, chronic joint inflammations, cholecystitis, enteritis, ovarian inflammations, chronic prostate inflammations.

Some general recommendations on the application of thermotherapy

Warm thermotherapy (ushna-kriya) or cold thermotherapy (shita-kriya) can range from ice cold to very hot. In these thermotherapy methods the whole body is exposed to the heat stimulus or the method is performed locally. In Ayurveda, the duration of the practical application of a hot or cold thermotherapy method and the temperature used is adapted according to the nature of the disease and the Ayurvedic constitution.

In general, Ayurveda indicates that people with pitta predominance may use mostly cold thermotherapy, and people with vata or kapha predominance may use mostly warm thermotherapy.

An example of warm thermotherapy (ushna-kriya) is the mud bath. Mud wraps and mud baths are known in physiotherapy treatments and spa cures. Mud powder is mixed with water until a viscous slurry is obtained. A viscous mass of mud several centimetres thick is applied to the skin for packing. Then cover that part of the body with oil-soaked paper and wrap it ina canvas. Wrapping takes about half an hour. The temperature is about 48°C. The duration of a procedure using mud depends on the person's constitution. Such a procedure takes between 5 and 30 minutes and the temperature can be between 40 and 45°C. At the end, the whole body is rinsed with clean water. A rest period of 30 to 60 minutes is recommended after a mud procedure.

An example of cold thermotherapy is cold compresses. In this case cold is useful for inflammation and pain. For example, in arthritis, a cold topical compress has a rapid soothing effect. A folded piece of cloth is placed in ice-cold water, wrung out and immediately placed on or around the wrist. The whole thing is covered with a piece of dry cloth. Only after the compress warms up from body temperature is the procedure repeated. The procedure is repeated several times until the pain, redness of the skin or swelling disappears.

Warm thermotherapy (ushna-kriya) is often used for chronic diseases of the musculoskeletal system, but also for muscle strains, joint or spinal pain and chronic joint diseases. Warm thermotherapy (ushna-kriya) is also recommended for colds, flu infections and bronchitis. Conditions such as cholecystitis, enteritis, inflammation of the ovaries and chronic inflammation of the prostate can be improved with warm thermotherapy (ushna-kriya).

Cold thermotherapy (shita-kriya) is recommended for oedema, swelling, insect bites, headaches, arthritis attacks, joint diseases, acute rheumatic diseases, fever, nerve inflammation and chronic pain.

Some warnings on the application of thermotherapy

Those suffering from vein conditions should avoid procedures involving excessive heat or intense saunas. Hot thermotherapy methods (ushna-kriya) in cases of sprains, strains, fractures, fever, infections, wounds, bleeding and acute inflammatory processes.

In principle, cold local thermotherapy procedures (shita-kriya) is only applied when that part of the body is already warmed up.

Cold hands and feet or chills are contraindications for cold thermotherapy (shita-kriya). Cold thermotherapy procedures (shita-kriya), such as walking through cold water or cold jets and partial baths are not recommended in cases of bladder irritation, bladder infections, arteriopathy, hypertension or sciatica.