Sunday, December 13, 2009

Heat Therapy

Heat is often used to treat pain associated with muscles and bones, but there doesn’t seem to be much research as to the psychological effects of thermal treatments. Undoubtedly though, warmth engenders anxiolytic effects. (An interesting note, heat therapy is commonly advertised as a treatment for anxiety, among other things, in dogs.)

One study directly related to the measure of psychiatric symptoms, found that people with mild depression who were exposed to thermal treatment (sauna and warm blanket in a warm room) had a greater reduction in psychological and physical symptoms (including appetite) than a control group.

In a 2008 study, researchers found that, based on the hypothesis that the insula is involved in processing both physical and psychical warmth, exposure to warm objects increased interpersonal warmness (generous, caring). The study design itself is quite amusing.

Other studies (1, 2) have found warm baths before bedtime reduced insomia and improved sleep in older adults and the elderly, respectively.

Suggestions on ways to warm up: sauna, bath, pocket packs, trip to the tropics, electric or regular fireplace, electric blanket, warm drink.

Things to be cautious of: burns, overheating/hyperthermia, dehydration.

It would be curious to see if a combination of heat and light therapy, such as in a tanning booth (you can wear sunscreen) had some adjunctive effect.

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