Heat and oedema

Heat and oedema … does heat make oedema worse?

Yes. Mostly. Perhaps. For some people. For most people. But not for everyone.

In my training I’ve had it drilled into me that heat makes swelling of any sort worse whether it’s oedema, lymphoedema or lipoedema.  

In summer most people find they swell more, even those without lymphoedema or lipoedema. I warn my clients to watch for extra swelling once it starts to heat up. That is when you’ll need to be most compliant with your garments, which is a little bit of torture because the last thing you want to do when it’s stinky hot is add a layer of compression.

Having said that, I have one client who thrives in summer and once winter starts her swelling gets worse. Go figure.

Is it ok to use an electric blanket?

Use them to preheat your bed but switch them off once you’re in.

What about a heat pack? 

There are so many benefits to a heat pack for sore muscles that I’d say go ahead and use one. But see how your body reacts and if there is extra swelling then you may need to think of another way to treat the area. You can also vary the temperature of the heat pack, not heating it to capacity and seeing if that causes less swelling. A heat pack will dilate blood and lymphatic vessels in the area but it won’t do any permanent damage to the lymphatic system.

Hot shower? 

The cooler the water the better but again, there are so many benefits to a hot shower so try different temperatures and see which one your body responds to best.

Heat and oedema
Hot and steamy weather on my trip home to Trinidad recently, my hands and feet got very swollen

Will heat make inflammation worse?

The million-dollar question … it depends on your body.  Heat used to treat muscular conditions is highly beneficial and shouldn’t increase inflammation, but your body is individual. Heat and oedema do go together but not always so try different types of heat and pay attention to what your body is telling you.

Is a cold pack better?

Not necessarily. A cold pack will reduce your temperature and constrict your blood and lymph vessels (the opposite to a heat pack) which may reduce some swelling and pain and have a numbing effect. The latest research is moving away from cold packs in the acute injury setting as they acknowledge the swelling and inflammation is an important part of the healing process. And if you prefer warmth over cold then you’re going to be very uncomfortable with a cold pack.

What if you can only cope with being in warm water and surrounding environments?

Then I’d continue doing what you’re doing and do the right thing for you rather than worrying about increasing inflammation. The stress caused by not feeling comfortable will probably cause more inflammation in the long run.

Thank you to my client for asking such relevant questions. Do you have any others about heat and oedema?

To find out more about Manual Lymphatic Drainage for oedema, lymphoedema or Lipoedema go here.