The use of heat to treat an injury or condition is known as Thermotherapy. Heat causes physiological changes within the tissue, such as increased temperature, metabolism, and elasticity of the tissue (See References 2), and decreased pain, muscle spasm, and joint stiffness (See References 1). When combined with massage, moist heat towels will produce general relaxation, which helps to reduce muscle spasm and pain as well. Whether you’re doing it for a living or at home, it’s easy to incorporate moist heat towels into your massage.

Things You'll Need

Prepare Moist Heat Packs

Wet one towel with water and ring it out so that no water is dripping, but it’s still wet. Place the towel into a gallon-size plastic bag and place in the microwave.

Heat the unsealed bag and wet towel for three minutes (time varies depending on microwave power). *Be careful when you remove the pack from the microwave–it will be HOT.

Wet and microwave up to four moist towel packs, but be sure to save the other six towels. You will need them when applying the moist towel packs to the patient.

Apply Moist Heat Packs

Have your patient lie face down on the table if you will be massaging the back. Have the patient remove all clothing above the waist to completely expose the back.

Place the six dry towels on the exposed skin. Place one moist heat pack (in the bag) over the towels. Use two heat packs if necessary to completely cover the back. Cover the moist heat pack(s) with any additional towels to minimize heat loss.

Inform the patient to tell you if the heat packs become too hot. Let the heat packs rest on the patient for 20 minutes. Check with the patient every five minutes to make sure they are comfortable (See References 1).

Remove the heat pack(s) and set aside. Wipe the patient’s back with the clean towels until it is dry. Apply a generous amount of massage oil to your hands (Do not apply oil directly on to the patient).

Massage the patient with smooth, even strokes. Start in the center of the back and make large outward circles, keeping pressure throughout. Try using different parts of your hand (heel of your palm, fists, fingertips) and differing amounts of pressure for a more diverse massage (See References 1). When possible, work towards the heart to help lymph and blood flow.


  • You want to use the heat packs very soon after you make them, as they will cool off quickly.

  • Keep your hands on the patient’s body for the entire massage, only remove them once you are done.

  • Apply more massage oil as necessary to maintain good lubrication.