Heat or Cold Treatment for Arthritis

Updated on March 10th, 2020
heat or cold for arthritis

Arthritis can cause severe and disabling pain. Stiff, swollen and aching joints may disable you from doing the physical activities you love to do or the even those basic activities required to get through each day.

While prescribed medication and physical therapy or the suggestions of a rheumatologist are the first line of defense for relief from arthritis. These sometimes cause unwarranted side effects.

An ancient home remedy – heat or cold therapy for arthritis – may prove to be advantageous by reducing pain and improving range of motion. Dr. M. Elaine Husni, a rheumatologist, and physician-scientist at Cleveland Clinic describes heat and cold treatment as “It doesn’t change or improve arthritis, but it can provide symptom relief,”

The best remedies for arthritis include exercise, joints movement, keeping good posture, knowing your limits, etc. Each of this might impact your joint pains in one or other way. In order to keep going and extend the limits, you can try applying heat treatment or cold treatment on the joints. This can provide immediate relief.

[ Also Read: How to Treat Arthritis Naturally? ]

Heat Treatment for Arthritis

Heat Treatment on Neck

Heat treatments using heating pads or taking warm baths, tend to be the least expensive and most effective remedy for soothing stiff joints and tired muscles.

Heat, when applied to the body, enhances circulation, delivering the required nutrients to joints and muscles making the body limber and ready for exercise. Applying heat on arthritis(1) affected joints also alters the sensation of pain.

Some easy ways to use Heat therapy for arthritis include:

  1. Using disposable heat patches or belts that are easily available at pharmacies.
  2. Taking a hot shower or hot tub baths.
  3. Moist heating pads or hot packs.
  4. A therapeutic mixture of paraffin and mineral oils.
  5. Using a warm, moist towel or cloth.

If you let hot water or any of above heat treatment measures impact your painful joints for say 5-10 minutes daily, the continuous heat flow on the pain site will keep the pain minimal and help you easing the movements and redefining your limits.

[Also Read: Acupuncture for Arthritis Pain]

Cold Treatment for Arthritis

cold therapy on hand

Using Cold treatment is best for acute pain; it restricts blood vessels, slowing the blood circulation and reducing the swelling near the pain site. It also numbs your nerve endings dulling the pain to significant levels.

Cold packs numb the sore area around the joints and reduce inflammation and swelling. Ice packs are especially recommended for joint pain due to an arthritis flare.

Many sprays are available in the market to provide superficial cooling when applied on joints. This diminishes muscle spasms(2) and elevates the threshold for pain.

You can use cold treatment for arthritis by using any of the following ways:

  1. Wrap a bag of ice and apply on the joints for a maximum of 20 minutes at a time.
  2. You can try a store-bought gel cold pack.
  3. You can submerge your joints in a container filled with ice and water.
  4. A clinical therapy combining cold and compression has also been helpful in many cases.

When applying cold treatments, be careful that it is not too cold to cause long numbness in the joints. Ice treatment when applied carefully can result in enormous reliefs in arthritis impacted joints.

[Also Read: Tai Chi for Arthritis]

Using Heat or Cold Remedies for Arthritis

A major concern that arises is how exactly should one apply these methods or how often can they be used? We recommend using moist heat or ice packs in any of the above-mentioned forms at least twice a day for significant relief from your pain and stiffness.

In a research conducted at the American College of Rheumatology, they stated that five to 10-minute ice massages applied on the pain site within the time span of first 48 hours of pain onset can provide relief effectively. So can heat treatment, which relaxes the muscles in the body. Heat packs should preferably be used for pain that lasts longer than 48 hours.

[Read: Home Remedies for Arthritis]

Do’s and Don’ts While Using Heat or Cold for Arthritis

  1. Never apply heat treatment for more than 10 minutes at a time.
  2. Cold treatment is not recommended to be used for more than 20 minutes at a time.
  3. Be extremely careful while using a hot or cold bag.
  4. Keep the temperatures at check to avoid any accidents.
  5. If your body does not respond well to heat or cold treatment, better check and consult with a doctor.


1. Which is Better for Arthritis: Heat or Cold?

Ans: Heat and cold therapies can be used together. You might want to take a hot water bath before starting the exercise or your day and consider a cold treatment afterward to reduce the pain and swelling. You just cannot commit to anyone but it greatly depends on what you prefer and what relaxes you more.

2. Is Heat Good for Arthritis?

Ans: Arthritis mainly causes stiff joints and pain that disables you from working or walking or moving your joints. Heat treatment in these cases reduces the stiffness and soothes the pain thus providing you relief from the pain.

3. Is Ice/Cold Good for Arthritis?

Ans: When you have inflammation or swelling in joints due to arthritis, you might want an immediate relief with no side effects. Ice and cold treatment are the exact remedies you are looking for. Ice bags can be used to reduce swelling and inflammation enabling you to start on the exercises.

Arthritis can be really discomforting and disabling you from performing your daily chores and exercises. A customized combination of heat and cold treatment for arthritis can be your one-stop resolution without any side effects. It might not cure arthritis completely but can definitely reduce the pain to significant amounts.

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