Skip to content

Hot and Cold Packs

Hot or cold packs -- or sometimes a combination of the two -- can provide relief for sore muscles and joints.

Cold numbs sore areas. It is especially helpful for the pain and swelling of an arthritis flare or joint injury, such as a sprained ankle. Cold may reduce inflammation by constricting blood flow to the injured area.

You can apply cold using a commercial cold pack or with a water bottle filled with ice and cold water.

You can also use items already in your home such as:

  • Zippable plastic freezer or storage bags filled with ice and water
  • A wash cloth or hand towel dipped into cold water and ice
  • A bag of frozen vegetables, such as peas or corn

Heat packs relax your muscles. Heat dilates blood vessels, sending more oxygen and blood to the area. Heat also decreases the sensation of pain.

You can apply heat with commercial heat packs, heating pads, or hot water bottles. Other ways to use heat include:

  • Soaking in a hot bathtub
  • Standing under a hot shower
  • Soaking a washcloth or hand towel in warm water then applying to painful joints or muscles

To get the most relief from hot or cold without damaging your skin, try these tips:

  • Use either heat or cold for only 15-20 minutes at a time.
  • Place a towel between your skin and the cold or heat source.
  • Don't use heat or cold on skin with open cuts or sores.
  • Don't use cold packs if you have vasculitis or poor circulation.
  • Test the temperature before using heat or cold.
  • Do not use creams, heat rubs, or lotions on your skin while using a hot or cold treatment.
  • Be especially careful with heating pads, which can cause severe burns if too hot or if left on for too long.
  • Do not make your bath or shower water too hot. This may cause dizziness or fatigue.

Choosing an OTC Pain Reliever

What you need to know to make a safe and effective choice.
View slideshow

Pain Relief Poll

What usually has you reaching for an OTC pain reliever?

View Results