Science Focus - the home of BBC Science Focus Magazine
Do heat patches really help with muscle pain? © Getty Images

Do heat patches really help with muscle pain?

Subscribe to BBC Science Focus Magazine and get 6 issues for just £9.99

Applying heat to a long-term injury can increase blood flow and relax muscle cramps.

Asked by: Jason Orben, USA


Although heat should not be used for a fresh injury, it can certainly be beneficial for long-term conditions. Heat patches dilate blood vessels, promoting blood flow and helping to relax painful muscles. Tissue injury activates nerve endings in the skin called nociceptors, which transmit signals to the brain to inform it of pain.

At the same time, neurotransmitters initiate a reflex that causes muscles to contract at the injury site, often to the point of spasm. Fortunately, heat can activate temperature-sensitive thermoreceptors, which initiate nerve signals to block those from nociceptors.

Applying pressure also helps, by triggering nerve endings called proprioceptors. Activating the sets of receptors helps painful muscles to relax.

Read more:


Subscribe to BBC Focus magazine for fascinating new Q&As every month and follow @sciencefocusQA on Twitter for your daily dose of fun science facts.


Dr Emma Davies is a science writer and editor with a PhD in food chemistry from the University of Leeds. She writes about all aspects of chemistry, from food and the environment to toxicology and regulatory science.


Sponsored content