Heat and Cold Therapy for Arthritis Pain
Can Hot Baths or Spas Help Arthritis Pain?
Many people with arthritis find relief from pain and stiffness with hot baths or spas. The moist heat increases muscle relaxation, boosts blood supply to the site of pain, and relieves rigidity and spasms in the muscles. But avoid hot tubs or spas if you have high blood pressure or heart disease, or if you are pregnant.
Does Cold Therapy Help Arthritis Pain?
Yes. Cold packs numb the sore area and reduce inflammation and swelling. Ice packs are especially good for joint pain caused by an arthritis flare. You might also try using a local spray such as fluoromethane (nonflammable) on your back or painful area before and after exercise. This superficial cooling decreases muscle spasms and increases the threshold for pain. Or you can make instant cold packs from frozen bags of vegetables.
Some patients prefer cold therapy to moist heat for arthritis pain, while others tell of having the best relief when they alternate the sessions with moist heat and ice. You can experiment with moist heat and ice therapy and then select the method that gives the best relief with the least trouble or expense.
How Often Should I Use Heat or Cold Therapy for Arthritis Pain?
Try to use moist heat or ice packs at least twice a day for the best relief from pain and stiffness.
According to the American College of Rheumatology, five to 10-minute ice massages applied to a painful area within the first 48 hours of pain onset can provide relief. So can heat, which relaxes the muscles. Heat should be used for pain that lasts longer than 48 hours.
Should I Use Heat or Ice for Acute Injuries?
If the new injury is red, swollen, or inflamed, then cooling the injury may help prevent inflammation. For example, if your pain stems from a muscle injury, treat it immediately with RICE -- rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Rest the injured body part and then apply ice. You can use an ice pack or a pack of frozen vegetables or fruit for 20 minutes. Then take it off for 20 minutes. Add compression with a firm elastic bandage. Elevate the injured part to keep swelling to a minimum.
Before using moist heat or ice therapy, be sure your skin is dry and free from cuts and sores. If you have visible skin damage, don't use cold or heat. And always protect your skin with a towel. After using heat or cold, gently move the arthritic joint to reduce stiffness.