Arthritis affects the joints, causing stiffness and pain. While there are a number of treatments you can do at home, hot and cold therapy is one of the easiest and definitely one of the safest arthritis treatments used to relieve the painful symptoms. Doctors often recommend hot and/or cold therapy to reduce inflammation and relieve aching joints. Trying hot and cold therapy is the only way to find out if this treatment will work for you. You can then work with hot and cold to find the particular combination to treat your specific symptoms of arthritis.
This therapy works to improve the body's own healing abilities. Heat allows dilation of the blood vessels. This in turn promotes circulation, resulting to reduced spasm of the muscles and increased oxygenation. Heat also defers the sensation of pain. Dry heat, such as lamps and pads, can be used as well as moist heat through hot baths, or wash cloths soaked in hot water.
According to the American College of Rheumatology, 5 to 10-minute ice massages applied to a painful area within the first 48 hours of pain onset can help relieve pain while heat should be used for pains that last longer than 48 hours.
When using heat therapy, you have to be careful with the heat being applied to prevent burning the skin. You want it hot, but not hot enough to be uncomfortable. You will find the temperature that your body can tolerate by testing gradually starting at lower temperatures and gradually increasing the temperature. Heat therapy can work well if done just before exercising. In between the exercise, heat packs can also be applied. Moist heat therapy can be done to provide additional relief from pain in arthritis. Other types of heat therapy includes heat patches, belts, hot packs, heated pools, moist heating pads, warm baths, showers, whirlpools, hot tubs, and warm towels or cloth that can be heated through the microwave. Also, many people with arthritis find soaking in hot baths and saunas effective relief for arthritis pain. Heat packs applied to arthritic joints at least twice daily has been proven to relieve pain and stiffness.
While heat opens blood vessels, cold constricts the blood vessels. Cold therapy can work on swollen parts of the body by producing a dulling and numbing effect and also reducing the swelling of inflamed joints. Ice packs are most effective during arthritis flares and can be effective when applied over joints. The cooling sensation of the skin above the affected areas lessens spasm of the underlying muscles, which improves the threshold of pain. Cold packs can easily be done by filling zip-lock baggies with water and placing them on the freezer to chill. For some people with arthritis, cold therapy may be enough to completely ease pain. However, many people choose to alternate hot and cold therapy.