Should I Use Heat or Cold for My Arthritis Pain?

Should I Use Heat or Cold for My Arthritis Pain?

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It’s a common question when trying to find relief for your symptoms- should I use heat or cold for my arthritis pain?

The answer to this question simply is–  there are therapeutic benefits to using both hot and cold treatments to help address your pain symptoms, especially the pain associated with arthritis. Both heat and cold treatments can stimulate the body to heal itself. The trick is knowing when to reach for the heating pad or the ice pack or both and how long to use each treatment to alleviate the pain being experienced.

Heat is an effective treatment for loosening stiff joints and soothing tired muscles. It loosens the body up prior to exercise and can help with relaxation and reducing muscle spasms.  It also increases blood flow to an area and promotes healing.  Heat however is not recommended on swollen, red or irritated joints, that is where a cold pack will be helpful. Cold treatments are effective for acute pain when constricting blood flow aids in decreasing inflammation and swelling.

According to an article in Arthritis Today, “Using Heat and Cold for Pain Relief,” there are many forms of heat and cold therapy. Heat treatments include long, warm showers; warm paraffin wax treatments; soaking in a warm bath or whirlpool; and using moist heat pads (from the drugstore or homemade) or hot water bottles. Studies have shown that wearing a continuous low-level heat wrap that stays warm up to 8 hours, available at drugstores, can significantly reduce stiffness and tension and increase flexibility lasting for 48 hours or longer. Even such techniques as warming your clothes in the dryer before dressing or turning up an electric blanket before getting out of bed, can help with relaxation and pain relief.

Cold treatments include applying a frozen gel pack or a frozen bag of vegetables (peas and corn contour well around joints)  to the affected area, helping to reduce inflammation, leading to joint pain. Switching between hot and cold therapy can offer excellent arthritis pain management benefits, as long as each one is used appropriately.

According to an article in, “Hot and Cold Therapy for Arthritis Joint Pain,” managing how long the heat and cold are against the skin is important to effective treatment.  This includes making sure the temperatures are not extreme (either too hot or too cold), placing a cloth or towel between your skin and the heat or cold source, and monitoring your skin carefully to avoid blistering or skin irritation.  Cold therapy should not be used if circulatory problems exist. In all cases of using heat and cold therapies to address pain symptoms, check with your health care provider before beginning a treatment plan.


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