Heat and Cold Therapy for Arthritis

Heat and Cold Therapy for ArthritisHeat and cold can provide much-needed relief to your arthritic joints. It is inexpensive, yet effective. However, it is important to know when it is appropriate to use heat or cold. It is a topic of much confusion as many people do not know if they should be pulling out their heating pad and hot pack, or their ice pack. In what follows, you will gain more understanding as to when to use each one.

First of all, keep these things in mind:

Cold is used to reduce swelling, inflammation, and the pain related to arthritis. These signs and symptoms are often more noticeable after daily use and activity. You will recognize this as joints that are warm to the touch, red in appearance, and swollen.

The way cold therapy works is by reducing circulation and restricting blood flow around the joints, which can then bring down the swelling. The cold also numbs the pain.

There are a couple of reasons why it is so important to reduce swelling. First, swelling causes decreased range of movement in your joints, which can further hamper your mobility. In addition, if you continue to perform activity when your joints are inflamed and swollen, you can actually cause more damage and deformity to your joints.

Heat, on the other hand, is used to relax the muscles that support the joints. Heat is useful in reducing joint and muscle stiffness. Heat can be useful when you first wake up to help “loosen” stiff joints, as is often the case for those who have osteoarthritis (the “wear-and-tear” type of arthritis). This is because heat does the opposite of cold therapy. Heat increases circulation to the joints and surrounding muscles, which also increases lubrication of the joints. It is useful to use before activity.

It can be beneficial to use both cold and heat therapy over the course of a day, depending on what you are doing, and what your joints are telling you. You need to learn to listen to them, and they will guide you as to what to do. For example, you may find that you need to use heat on your joints when you first wake up, or before you exercise, and then use cold after completing the exercise.

Here are a few tips for the use of each of these therapies:
Heat
If you are stiff when you first wake up, consider taking a warm bath or shower.

Use a heating pad for up to twenty minutes at a time. You should always wrap it up to ensure you don’t burn your skin. You can even buy heating pads that provide moist heat.

Purchase paraffin wax that can be warmed up. Insert your hands or feet into the wax. Just make sure to check the temperature of the wax before use.

Cold
Buy a small ice pack from the store. Follow the instructions on how to keep it cold. When ready for use, wrap it in a small towel, and apply it to your affected joints for up to twenty minutes at a time. If the affected joints are in your lower body, it can also help to elevate them (in a recliner chair) as long as you don’t have any blood vessel conditions where you should not be elevating your legs (you can ask your doctor).

Another option is to use a bag of frozen vegetables. Wrap it in a towel, and apply it to your joints.