Taking action against arthritis involves utilizing all the medical, physical, and psychological weapons you have at your disposal. Exercise, an important component of managing arthritis, isn’t the only means of living fully and easing pain.
The sensations of heat and cold can have remarkable pain-relieving effects. Cold not only numbs pain, it constricts blood vessels and helps reduce swelling. Heat enhances blood circulation and makes muscles relax. Both can help treat the pain of arthritis, though neither should be used for more than 15 or 20 minutes at a time. Some people find they get the best results by switching back and forth — treating joints with heat for several minutes, then (after resting a moment) following with a cold treatment for one minute. Look below to learn how to optimize both options:
In lieu of refreezable commercial products, you can make your own cold pack by applying a bag of frozen vegetables or a sandwich bag filled with ice. It’s best to wrap the pack in a towel to keep from damaging your skin. If you don’t have a towel handy, keep ice moving in a circular pattern for several minutes at a time. Avoid using cold if you have poor circulation due to conditions such as diabetes.
Heat comes either dry from lamps, heating pads, hot water bottles, and electric blankets, or wet from warm baths, steamy washcloths, or paraffin baths. Whatever you use, avoid combining these heat sources with a topical heating cream, which together can burn the skin. Don’t apply pressure with heat, lie down on a heating pad, or fall asleep under a heat lamp.