Everybody knows how good a heat pack on an aching joint or muscle can be – the feeling of relief that is provided by this easy and effective treatment is often rapid. The analgesic (pain relieving) effects of heat therapy are well known, but the actual mode of action on pain perception is still unclear. What we do know is that it elevates the pain threshold (a good thing), alters nerve conduction velocity and decreases nociceptive information (the response of the sensory nervous system to potentially harmful events, also a good thing) and alters the local tissue metabolism through enhanced blood flow. All of these mechanisms result in an overall decrease in the feeling of pain. A number of studies have demonstrated these beneficial effects in humans. Direct application of a heat pack is different to a warm ambient room temperature as the application of heat directly to tissues can warm the tissue to a depth of 1 – 2cm.

So this winter if you know your pet has, for example, knee pain and limps on a cold winter’s morning when they first get out of bed, perhaps consider applying a heat pack for 15 minutes to the joint before they get out of bed (check it yourself to ensure it is not too warm). This may assist them in warming up quicker and give them that little bit of extra relief, whether they are on pharmaceutical pain management already or not.

Also consider yourself how stiff you may feel if you are cold and uncomfortable and translate this to your pet – your muscles tighten up and you feel stiff when you move. If your pet has an underlying muscular or skeletal issue this can happen to them too. Ensure they have a comfortable place to lie that is off the hard and cold ground, both indoors and outdoors and provide a warm, dry area for them to sleep. Happy, cozy winter to you and your pets!

Jürgen Freiwald, Matthias Wilhelm Hoppe, Wilhelm Beermann, Jarek Krajewski, Christian Baumgart Effects of supplemental heat therapy in multimodal treated chronic low back pain patients on strength and flexibility. Clinical Biomechanics, Volume 57, August 2018, Pages 107-113 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clinbiomech.2018.06.008

Morteza Dehghan, Farinaz Farahbod. The efficacy of thermotherapy and cryotherapy on pain relief in patients with acute low back pain, a clinical trial study. Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research [serial online]2014 Sep[cited:2019 Jun 16] 9 LC01 – LC04

Holger Cramer, Christian Baumgarten, Kyung-Eun Choi, Romy Lauche, Felix Joyonto Saha, Frauke Musial, Gustav Dobos. Thermotherapy self-treatment for neck pain relief—A randomized controlled trial. European Journal of Integrative Medicine Volume 4, Issue 4, December 2012, Pages e371-e378