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Image from page 356 of %22Catalogue of surgeons instruments and medical appliances. Electro-therapeutic apparatus. Sundries for the surgery and sick-room, medicine chests, etc%22 (1896)

Image from page 356 of “Catalogue of surgeons instruments and medical appliances. Electro-therapeutic apparatus. Sundries for the surgery and sick-room, medicine chests, etc” (1896)

Deep breath and sinking feeling when I saw the headline of this recent NPR blog post by Nancy Schute: “Farewell, Heating Pad: Physical Therapists Say It Doesn’t Help.” Since a persistent sharp shooting pain in my foot has been bothering me on and off for about a year, one prong of the stepped up war on pain plan, recommended by my beloved and revered physical therapist, includes the use of heat in the morning and ice the rest of the day. I won’t quote my PT on this, but I’m pretty sure the reasoning is that heat helps relieve stiffness and get things moving in the morning. Then ice helps with pain and inflammation the rest of the day. So how could he tell me to use heat if it doesn’t help?!? He is, as far as I am concerned, practically infallible. This did not compute.

Then I clicked on the link – a wise practice when one is considering jumping to the nearest conclusion – the problem is not the use of heat, or other so-called passive therapy methods per se, it’s that some PTs are still charging insurance companies for slapping a heating pad on your low back for symptom relief instead of making you learn some challenging Pilates based exercises to truly address the origin of the problem. So, a heating pad makes almost no difference in the physical therapy you are paying for or that your insurance company is paying for. It doesn’t say we should toss the heating pad altogether and I can live with that. With the skyrocketing cost of healthcare in this country, ineffective and wasteful practices should be eliminated as much as possible.

One this is for sure, my PT doesn’t waste my time or money – even if, after a particularly intense session, I might welcome a moment of relaxation and warmth, he’s never even offered! I can generally be counted on to squeal, curse, pound the table and whimper while he’s “fixing me” and at times I may claim that he is brutal, unfeeling, masochistic, mean and has the pointiest and hardest elbows in town, but if anything, this article has only confirmed my belief that I have the best PT in the world. He does what needs doing and sends me home to my personal collection of ice packs and ibuprofen, where I belong. He reminds me “heat in the morning, ice in the afternoon” and orders me to get back out there – go to Zumba, do my exercises, listen to my body and report back.

A heating pad sounds wonderful, relaxing, luxurious…a safe place where nothing bad can happen to us. But let this new data be a reminder to us that just because nothing bad might come of something so comforting, doesn’t mean anything good will either. Let us not be lulled into complacency and inaction. My own body often feels fragile and temperamental, to the point where it is tempting to avoid anything that could present a risk, that is to say, life in general. But as my PT has reassured me, I am not really fragile. The only way to stay out off of his table is to move, even if that is, paradoxically in my case, also the surest way to find my way back to his table.

Forget the heating pad, it’s worth the risk. I’ve got things to do!

How do you get yourself back out there after a bout of illness or injury?