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Consider Heat or Ice

Heat helps soothe stiff joints and relax muscles. Cold helps numb sharp pain and reduce inflammation. Use temperature therapy to complement meds and self-care. It's simple, affordable, soothing -- and you have to sit down to use either one.

Packs and Compresses

For short-term pain relief, make a pack from items such as:

* An electric heating pad

* A gel pack that can be microwaved or frozen

* A bag of ice or frozen vegetables

Whether hot or cold, wrap the pack in a towel to help protect your skin.

Or make a compress -- a washcloth or small towel soaked in hot or cold water, wrung out, and folded. Cover with a dry towel to insulate it.

Apply to the painful area for 15-20 minutes several times daily.

Don't Overdo It

It's normal for your skin to look a little pinker after using cold or heat. Before adding new ice or turning the heat back on, let your skin return to its normal color and temperature.

If you see any of these signs after removing the warm or cold pack, call your doctor. These are signs the temperature was too extreme and may indicate skin damage.

* Purplish-red, dark red, or spotty red and white color

* Hives

* Swelling

* Blisters

Heated Wax Therapy

Another way to apply heat, especially to hands, elbows, and feet, is warm, melted paraffin.

A heated container (available at drugstores and beauty supply stores) safely melts paraffin and mineral oil to make a paraffin bath. Dip the painful body part several times to build up a warm layer. Then cover it with plastic and wrap in a towel for 10-15 minutes until the wax cools. Unwrap and peel the wax away.

To avoid irritation and pain, make sure the skin where you treat has no cuts or sores.

Low-Level Heat

If you find that heat helps ease your pain, try a continuous low-level heat wrap, available at drugstores. It's a convenient way to keep painful areas warm. You can wear a heat wrap for up to 8 hours, even while you sleep. Follow the directions carefully.

Studies suggest that low-level, long-term heat applied directly on the skin can significantly reduce stiffness and tension and increase flexibility. Positive effects can last for 48 hours or longer.

 

Hydrotherapy

Showers and baths aren't just for mornings. When you're hurting, stand under or settle into warm water for a few minutes to help soothe and relax you. (If you're over 70 or have heart problems, check with your doctor before getting into a hot tub.)

Try a warm shower or bath before you exercise to help loosen joints and muscles.

On the other hand, using cool water may help calm deep, burning pain and reduce inflammation.

Keep in mind, a bath can be for your whole body or just a part.

Warm Clothes

Want an easier -- and less painful -- start to your day? Tumble your clothes in the dryer for a few minutes before you put them on. The warm clothes will heat you up and may help ease morning pain and stiffness.

Better yet: Ask your mate to put your clothes in the dryer while you rest for a few extra minutes in bed.

 

Contrast Baths

Get 2 tubs or containers large enough for your painful area ready with warm and cold water. Soak in the warm tub for about 5 minutes until it no longer feels warm, then plunge into the cold tub for about 1 minute. Go back to the warm for a few more minutes, then the cold for a minute. Repeat 4-5 times.

While in the cold bath, have someone add water to the warm one to bring the temperature up.

Contrast baths increase blood flow to help reduce swelling and pain and promote healing.

 

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on March 03, 2012

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