Updated: 2019, Sep 4

Using Thermotherapy (Heat) And Cryotherapy (Cold) For Arthritis Joint Pain Relief

Heat And Cold Therapies For Arthritis

Arthritis is one of the most debilitating conditions that cause pain and inflammation in the joints. The condition is usually characterized by joint pain and stiffness that gets worse with age. The two common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. While osteoarthritis causes breakdown of the cartilages, rheumatoid arthritis affects the lining of joints; it is actually known as an autoimmune disorder.

There are of course quite a number of remedies for arthritis joint pain including natural DIY techniques and remedies and clinical medications that help prevent inflammation and pain in the joints. While many of the various remedies require intervention from professional medical experts, heat and cold therapy for arthritis has proven to be quite effective yet very simple and recommended to many patients. The technique has even gone into books as one of the basic but most effective therapies to help ease arthritis pain and inflammation. The good thing with method is the fact that it is the least expensive and very simple to administer.

Heat and cold therapy for arthritis actually work by soothing the stiff joints and tired muscles that finally result into pain. Heat therapy for arthritis is actually good in enhancing circulation and supply of crucial nutrients needed for proper function of the joints and muscles. Cold therapy for arthritis, on the other hand, helps to prevent acute pain since it restricts blood vessels, slowing circulation and subsequently reducing swelling. The cold therapy also helps to numb nerve endings thus dulling the pain.

Is Heat or Cold Better for Arthritis Pain?

There are actually no universally accepted guidelines on when to use heat or cold therapy on arthritic joints. Recommendations are mixed and patients often get confused on when to use heat for arthritis and when to use cold for arthritis. However, individuals are advised to experiment with both heat and cold therapies to determine which one works best for them.

When Do You Use Heat for Arthritis?

Heat helps to relax the muscles and joints from pain and stress. Using heat therapy, therefore, will be ideal to relieve and relax stiff, tensed and sore muscles as well as joint pain. On the other hand, heat therapy stimulates blood flow and improved circulation helps reduce stiffness painful joints and helps increase the range of motion.

When Do You Use Cold for Arthritis?

Cold therapy is necessary when there is a sensation of burning. Cold therapy can help to reduce inflammation, swelling and pain related to activity and arthritis. Use of a cold pack can, therefore, help in lessening your arthritis-related joint pain effectively.

What is Better for Arthritis Heat or Cold?

sometimes, you may alternate application of both heat and cold therapies for better results. For instance, before, a patient may use heat therapy to warm up the muscles before physical therapy exercises then later apply cold therapy after the exercises. Another instance is where a patient may use heat therapy in the morning to loosen up an osteoarthritic knee then later use cold therapy to prevent or reduce swelling. These may be done throughout the day alternating heat and cold therapies depending on the situation.

The basic principle of using these two types of therapies, heat and cold, is to know when to apply each. For instance, you cannot apply heat therapy for arthritis when the joint is already hot, red and irritated. The same case, you can’t apply cold therapy for arthritis to a stiff joint that is not moving well. Simply understand that heat helps to relax muscles and cold helps reduce inflammation and pain. Having known this, you can easily answer the question, “what is better for arthritis, heat or cold?”

Is Heating Pad Good for Arthritis?

Heat treatment for cold pain can be done using various heat therapy devices such as a heating pad, a hand towel soaked in hot water, a heat pack, a hot water bottle or a warm water soak. While using these devices;

  • Ensure the temperatures are comfortable- not too high to risk skin burns
  • Place a cloth between your skin and heat source to prevent burns
  • Do not use heat directly to injured or cut the skin
  • Do not apply heat for over 20 minutes

On the other hand, using cold therapy may include using such devices as a cold pack, a bag of frozen vegetables or a bag of ice. In this case, it is also recommended;

  • Not to use cold therapy if you have circulatory problems
  • To use a cloth between your skin and the cold source to avoid irritation or more damages
  • Not to apply cold therapy for over 20 minutes such that your skin becomes too cold
  • Remove the cold source when you notice your skin is becoming numb, bright red, blistered or blotchy.

Alternating heat and cold therapy for arthritis can offer the best arthritis pain management benefits, provided each type of therapy is used appropriately.

How to Treat Arthritis with Heat or Cold?

Heat or cold therapies are now among the most sought-after remedies for arthritis pain. While there is no distinctive way to apply heat or cold universally, you can experiment with the following forms of heat and cold therapy to determine the one that provides the best pain relief for you.

Heat treatments

  • Use a heating pad for about 20 minutes at a time. An alternative for this is an air-activated heat pack if you need one that is portable. While using the devices protect your skin by placing a piece of cloth between your skin and the heat source.
  • Take a warm shower or bath to get rid of morning stiffness
  • Use a warm paraffin wax treatment system. This is good for sore hand and foot joints
Heat treatments
  • Use moist heat pads available at many drugstores. You can as well make yours by putting a wet washcloth in a freezer bag then heating it in a microwave. Afterward, wrap the hot pack in a towel and place it over the affected area for about 20 minutes.
  • Soak in a warm whirlpool
  • Apply mineral oil to soothe stiff and painful hand joints then put on rubber dishwashing gloves and place your hands in hot tap water for about 10 minutes.
  • Apply gel such as Traumeel

Cold Treatments

  • Wrap a bag of ice or frozen vegetables in a towel then apply to the area affected with pain for about 20 minutes
  • Make own ice pack by mixing two cups of water with a cup of rubbing alcohol then freezing in a plastic bag. When read, wrap the ice pack in a towel and apply to the painful areas
Cold Treatments
  • Give the affected join an ice bath by submerging the joint in a container of ice and water
  • Use a purchased gel cold pack which stays cold for longer and that comes with a sleeve-form

Conclusion

According to a review published by Cochrane Collaboration, Heat and cold therapy for arthritis can be used for arthritis pain relief. The therapies prove to be the easiest, in-expensive and medication-free methods of relieving joint pain and stiffness.

The therapies are ideal in encouraging the healing process of the damaged tissues, minimize joint stiffness and pain, and stimulate the production of the synovial fluid which boosts lubrication and distracting the brain from the pain by stimulating sensory receptors in the skin to decrease transmission of pain signals to the brain.

While going for heat therapy, make sure it is warm, not hot or painful to the skin. The therapy must also be applied directly to the affected area to ensure the affected tissues get the remedy from pain.

However, if both the therapies turn out to be futile, you can consider using pain relief products such as Salonpas Gel & Patch to get instant relief from joint pain.

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