How to Use Hot Moist Towels in Massage Therapy

Heat treatments are used to provide health benefits, ranging from treating arthritis joint pain to increasing circulation to reducing post-exercise muscle soreness. Although you can derive benefits from heat in steam rooms or whirlpools, using hot moist towels is a convenient, inexpensive mode of heat therapy. The towels can be administered before a massage to increase circulation and help relieve muscle soreness.

A small folded-up towel sits among flower petals and a small stack of white stones in a spa setting. (Image: Norasit Kaewsai/iStock/Getty Images)

Moist Heat Effects

Moist heat sources -- like hot towels -- transfer heat more quickly and effectively to the skin and underlying superficial tissues than does dry heat, according to a December 2013 report in the "Journal of Clinical Medicine Research." Applying moist, hot towels also increase blood flow to the skin more quickly than dry heat sources, according to a study published in September 2009 in the "Archives of Dermatological Research." When used to treat muscle pain -- such as after an intense workout -- applying hot moist towels is most effective in the first 24 hours, according to the 2013 study. For optimum muscle-healing benefits through increased blood flow, another form of moist heat delivery may be best, as towels cool quickly.

Integrating With Massage

Massage therapy increases blood flow and skin temperature for up to 60 minutes, according to a July 2010 "Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine" report. Since both moist heat and massage are used to relieve post-exercise muscle soreness, these therapies are often integrated. One option is to apply hot moist towels for 20 minutes to 2 hours immediately following exercise and follow that with a massage focusing on the muscles used in your workout.


Ensure the towel temperature is not too hot before applying it to your body. Additionally, check with a health-care professional before using hot towels if you have a pre-existing health condition that affects temperature sensation or circulation, such as diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease.

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