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Osteoarthritis: Heat and Cold Therapy - Topic Overview

For moderate to severe pain from osteoarthritis, try applying heat and cold to the affected joints. Experiment with these heat and cold techniques until you find what helps you most.

  • Apply heat 2 or 3 times a day for 20 to 30 minutes, using a heating pad, hot shower, or hot pack. Heat seems to be effective for pain and stiffness related to inactivity of a joint. If you are using an electric heating pad, avoid falling asleep while the pad is on. If you think you might fall asleep, set an alarm clock to go off in 20 minutes. Use heating pads set on low or medium, never on high.
  • Try putting cold packs on a painful joint for 10 to 20 minutes. Do not apply a cold pack directly to bare skin. Put a thin towel or pillowcase between the ice and your skin.
  • Try ice massage.
  • Try alternating between heat and cold.
  • After a heat or cold treatment, try some gentle massage for relaxation and pain relief.

Paraffin wax is a form of moist heat that may help if you have pain and stiffness in your hands or feet. It is especially useful before exercise. Your physical therapist can teach you to use paraffin at home.

Recommended Related to Osteoarthritis

How to Make an Arthritis-Friendly Home

Your home should be a place where you feel safe and comfortable. But when you have arthritis, it may seem like your home is filled with obstacles, such as doors that are hard to open and lamps that are difficult to turn on. Assistive devices for arthritis can help make these everyday tasks easier. From opening small jars and bottles to getting out of the tub, these devices can ease the strain on your joints. These tools are available at your local pharmacy, hardware store, or medical supply store,...

Read the How to Make an Arthritis-Friendly Home article > >

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: April 08, 2013
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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