When Heat Therapy Is Effective
Heat therapy can offer benefit in the following scenarios:
- For pain relief not associated with acute trauma or acute inflammation
- To relieve muscle spasms and muscle tightness
- To enhance muscular flexibility or range of motion of your joints
For acute trauma or acute inflammation you might be interested in Cold Therapy for Arthritis.
If you are unsure of whether or not to use heat, ask your doctor or physiotherapist.
Urgent Advice: Get Advice From 111 Now If:
- your knee is very painful
- you cannot move your knee or put any weight on it
- your knee is badly swollen or has changed shape
- you have a very high temperature, feel hot and shivery, and have redness or heat around your knee this can be a sign of infection
111 will tell you what to do. They can tell you the right place to get help if you need to see someone.
Go to 111.nhs.uk or .
You can also go to an urgent treatment centre if you need to see someone now.
Theyre also called walk-in centres or minor injuries units.
You may be seen quicker than you would at A& E.
If You Answered With Pain In The Knee Joint
You might want to opt for ice. If your main problem is knee joint pain, I would apply the ice directly to the most painful area of the joint.
Youll want to use a few layers between the ice and your skin. My preferred method would be:
- Take a bag of frozen peas from the freezer
- Wrap a thin towel around them
- Dampen the towel slightly, then apply to the painful area for 15 minutes
- Remove the peas/towel and let the area heat back up to its natural skin temperature
- You can then apply the peas/towel again. There is no limit to how many times you can do this.
- Always look out for any signs of ice burn on your skin and remove immediately if you see or feel anything.
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Swim Or Exercise In Warm Water
Swimming and exercising in warm water allows you to build muscle strength, improve flexibility, and increase mobility while reducing compression to your joints. This may help to ease discomfort and alleviate stiffness.
If you live near a warm body of water, take a dip in a natural setting. Otherwise, find a heated pool in your area. Aim to spend at least 20 minutes in the water.
What Temperature Is Best When Using Heat Therapy For Arthritis
When using moist heat therapy, make sure the temperature is not so hot that you burn your skin. Find a temperature that you can comfortably tolerate, whether using a bath, hot water bottle, or spa therapy.
You also need to give it time to work. Use the moist heat application for at least 15 minutes before exercise. Then use it again immediately following exercise. You can also use moist heat anytime you want additional relief from arthritis pain.
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When To Use Heat Vs Ice
Conventional wisdom says this:
- Cold therapy reduces blood flow to the area, which can decrease swelling and inflammation. This can be especially soothing if you have an acute injury say, your joints hurt worse than usual because you were gardening all weekend.
- Heat therapy increases blood flow to the area, which helps blood vessels dilate, drawing in more oxygen and nutrients. This can be especially soothing for stiff joints, especially for people who experience morning stiffness because of arthritis.
As this Cleveland Clinic article says, for an acute injury, such as a pulled muscle or injured tendon, the usual recommendation is to start by applying ice to reduce inflammation and dull pain. Once inflammation has gone down, heat can be used to ease stiffness.
If youre choosing between ice and heat, for the most part, it really just depends on what type of problem youre dealing with, says Brett Smith, DO, a rheumatologist at Blount Memorial Physicians Group in Alcoa, Tennessee. Youre trying to get the opposite effect of whats going on. If youre physically swollen, you want to try and cool that down to allow you to have less pain. If youre not physically swollen, then youre trying to heat it up to increase blood flow to help with the healing process.
Both ice and heat therapy may decrease the transmission of pain signals to the brain, which can also help with pain relief.
Can Hot Baths Or Spas Help Arthritis Pain
Many people with arthritis find relief from pain and stiffness with hot baths or spas. The moist heat increases muscle relaxation, boosts blood supply to the site of pain, and relieves rigidity and spasms in the muscles. But avoid hot tubs or spas if you have high blood pressure or heart disease, or if you are pregnant.
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Types Of Heat Therapy For Arthritis
There are several types of heat therapy, called thermotherapy, options for arthritis. Heat therapy improves circulation and causes your blood vessels to expand. This helps your body to deliver more blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the affected area, which may reduce inflammation, stiffness, and pain. Heat therapy may also improve mobility, which makes it easier to relax, loosen up, and move.
If a heat therapy session causes swelling, redness, or inflammation avoid further treatments until your symptoms subside. Avoid using heat therapy during a flare-up or the acute stage of an injury. Talk with a healthcare professional before using heat treatments if you have heart disease or high blood pressure.
Do not use heat therapy if you have any of the following conditions:
- multiple sclerosis
Appendix 1 Medline Search Strategy
1 exp osteoarthritis/ 2 osteoarthritis.tw. 3 osteoarthrosis.tw. 4 degenerative arthritis.tw. 5 exp arthritis, rheumatoid/ 6 rheumatoid arthritis.tw. 7 rheumatism.tw. 8 arthritis, juvenile rheumatoid/ 9 caplan’s syndrome.tw. 10 felty’s syndrome.tw. 11 rheumatoid.tw. 12 ankylosing spondylitis.tw. 13 arthrosis.tw. 14 sjogren$.tw. 15 or/114 16 heat/tu 17 .tw. 18 cryotherapy.sh,tw. 19 .tw. 20 exp hyperthermia, induced/ 21 .tw. 22 .tw. 23 or/1522 24 clinical trial.pt. 25 randomized controlled trial.pt. 26 tu.fs. 27 dt.fs. 28 random$.tw. 29 placebo$.tw. 30 adj ).tw 31 sham.tw. 32 or/2431 33 23 and 32
When To Be Careful With Heat Therapy
Cold therapy should be used with caution or possibly avoided in the following scenarios:
- Over an area with compromised circulation or sensation
- Over an acutely inflamed or swollen joint
- Over an open wound or infected area
- In the presence of a confirmed malignancy/cancer
- Medical conditions such as hemophilia
If one or more of these apply to you, or you are concerned about how to safely use heat therapy, check with your doctor or physiotherapist.
Tips To Combine Heat And Cold Therapy In Your Daily Routine
Here are a few tips to help you incorporate the use of heat and/or cold therapy in your everyday activities:
- Keep a heat patch near your beduse it first thing in the morning to warm up your muscles if you wake up with an achy or stiff back
- Apply a cold patch before bed if you have exercised or exerted your back
- Use heat therapy before sleeping and after waking up if you have chronic back pain
- Carry a couple of self-activating heat patches and ice packs in your bag or car to use while driving or at work
You are more likely to benefit from heat and cold therapy when you make these treatments a part of your daily routine.
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Using Both Heat And Ice
In some situations, applying both ice and heat to your joint may be helpful. Called contrast therapy, this treatment involves alternating between icing and heating a joint. While this option has traditionally been utilized after exercise or participating in a sporting event to aid in recovery, it may be helpful for more chronic conditions as well. This style of treatment can be performed using hot and cold packs or by alternately submerging the knee in hot and cold water.
While individuals who received contrast therapy subjectively reported less overall soreness and muscular fatigue, the research is still mixed. The current evidence is lacking on whether this treatment is helpful in managing the pain associated with a knee injury or in reducing your inflammation levels.
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Water As Heat Therapy
In general, I do not recommend soaking or prolonged submerging of an open wound. Although whirlpool baths used to be widely used with burns and wounds, we now know that such practices create a breeding ground for infection.
I would say the majority of my clients with arthritis report that they start each day with a long, hot shower to help them slowly work out their joint stiffness and help them get moving.
Soak in a tub of warm water, or a garden tub with jets. Some clients use Epsom salts in the bath.
A small number of my arthritis clients have jacuzzis or hot tubs. In Texas, taxes paid on these spas are reimbursable with a doctors letter. These units have jets to agitate the water. Some have jets and spouts that can be directed to specific areas on your body, which can act as a mini-massage.
However, exercise caution with spa tubs. The warm water is not only relaxing, it decreases blood pressure. When public spas say limit to 10 minutes, this is related to drops in blood pressure that can potentially be dangerous. Never go in the spa alone. There is a very real danger that you could pass out from low blood pressure.
- Overwhelmingly clients with arthritis experience decreased achy pain and stiffness in their hands after wearing resting hand splints for sleeping.
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How To Treat Joint Pain
Whether to use a hot or cold treatment to provide relief depends on the source of the pain.
Heat increases blood flow to an affected area, which promotes healing and relaxes muscle spasms. Cold restricts blood flow, reducing swelling and inflammation. It also numbs pain around the affected area.
Generally speaking, ice is better for inflammatory pain. You can tell if a joint is inflamed if its red, swollen, or warm to the touch. Relieve inflamed joints by applying a gel ice pack, cold pack, or even a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a T-shirt to the injured area.
For joint pain not caused by inflammation such as osteoarthritis opt for heat. The Arthritis Foundation recommends placing a moist heating pad wrapped in a layer of cloth on the affected joint or soaking it in a warm bath. Heat treatments also can be effective for rheumatoid arthritis when youre not having a flare-up.
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Should I Use Heat Or Ice For Acute Injuries
If the new injury is red, swollen, or inflamed, then cooling the injury may help prevent inflammation. For example, if your pain stems from a muscle injury, treat it immediately with RICE — rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Rest the injured body part and then apply ice. You can use an ice pack or a pack of frozen vegetables or fruit for 20 minutes. Then take it off for 20 minutes. Add compression with a firm elastic bandage. Elevate the injured part to keep swelling to a minimum.
Before using moist heat or ice therapy, be sure your skin is dry and free from cuts and sores. If you have visible skin damage, don’t use cold or heat. And always protect your skin with a towel. After using heat or cold, gently move the arthritic joint to reduce stiffness.
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Saunas And Steam Rooms
You can use a dry sauna, infrared sauna, or steam room to improve circulation and alleviate stiffness.
The results of a 2018 review suggest that consistent use of a dry sauna is beneficial for people with rheumatoid arthritis as well as chronic pain syndrome. It may also help athletes to improve performance.
You can stay in a dry sauna or steam room for up to 15 minutes though you may want to begin with shorter sessions. Give yourself plenty of time to cool down in between sessions.
If youre pregnant, talk with your doctor before using a sauna or steam room.
Should I Use Heat Or Cold For My Arthritis Pain
Its a common question when trying to find relief for your symptoms- should I use heat or cold for my arthritis pain? The answer to this question simply is there are therapeutic benefits to using both hot and cold treatments to help address your pain symptoms, especially the pain associated with arthritis. Both heat and cold treatments can stimulate the body to heal itself. The trick is knowing when to reach for the heating pad or the ice pack or both and how long to use each treatment to alleviate the pain being experienced.
Heat is an effective treatment for loosening stiff joints and soothing tired muscles. It loosens the body up prior to exercise and can help with relaxation and reducing muscle spasms. It also increases blood flow to an area and promotes healing. Heat however is not recommended on swollen, red or irritated joints, that is where a cold pack will be helpful. Cold treatments are effective for acute pain when constricting blood flow aids in decreasing inflammation and swelling.
Cold treatments include applying a frozen gel pack or a frozen bag of vegetables to the affected area, helping to reduce inflammation, leading to joint pain. Switching between hot and cold therapy can offer excellent arthritis pain management benefits, as long as each one is used appropriately.
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Bring On The Sweet Relief
You take your meds, as you should. Maybe you see a physical therapist regularly or do yoga now and then to help manage arthritis symptoms also smart moves. But even if youre good about sticking to your treatment plan, there will be mornings when its tough to get your body moving. And there will be times when stiff, achy joints make tasks tough. And that is when you should try heat therapy.
Heat therapy is primarily used to decrease pain and improve muscle flexibility in patients with arthritis, says Maura Daly Iversen, PT, associate dean of clinical education, rehabilitation, and new initiatives at the Bouvé College of Health Sciences, Northeastern University.
Heat therapy wont change or improve your condition, but it can help relieve arthritis symptoms. A review of research published by Cochrane found that superficial moist heat can be used as palliative, or supportive, therapy for people with rheumatoid arthritis . Studies also showed paraffin wax baths combined with exercises help relieve arthritic hands.
Use Cold To Treat The Acute Pain Caused By Inflammation And Swelling
Pain following activity or a period of exercise is the result of soft tissue injury broken capillaries leak blood and serum into adjacent tissues and cause localized swelling and inflammation. When a long walk or an afternoon in the garden leaves your joints feeling thick and painful, use cold. Cold applications cause the blood vessels to constrict, preventing further leakage and additional swelling, and relieving pain by numbing the sore joint. Use a bag of ice, a bag of frozen peas, or a gel-filled cold pack wrapped in a towel to protect your skin. Apply cold for 10 to 20 minutes. Remove for at least 20 to 40 minutes, and then repeat if necessary.
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Key Points For Safe And Effective Treatment
Its important to remember a few key points to maximize the benefits of heat therapy and avoid causing problems by overdoing it:
Heat should be comfortably warm: Effective heat feels comfortable and not feel like it is burning the skin. If heat is too hot, add one or two towels between the heat source and body part, or remove heat.
Continuously inspect the heated area: The heated area will appear red and possibly sweaty. If heat causes pain in the affected area, remove it and do not continue heat therapy until you consult with a physical therapist.
Use equal periods of heat and rest: Heat can be re-applied after leaving it off for the same period of time that it was applied. Make sure that all redness should be gone before re-applying heat.
Take care with hot packs and electric blankets: Do not lie on a hot pack or electric blanket! Do not fall asleep with a hot pack or electric blanket on your body!
Use safe temperatures: Heat sources should not exceed 45 degrees Celsius greater temperatures will cause tissue damage depending on the duration of heat exposure.
Use Mineral Oils And Rubber Gloves
If PsA affects your hands, try this simple method. First, rub mineral oil on your hands. When youre ready, place them in a pair of rubber gloves and run warm water over them. You can do this for about 5 to 10 minutes.
You can use cold therapy at home during flares to soothe inflammation. Here are a few methods you might find helpful.
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When To Seek Treatment For Your Arthritis
Arthritis doesnt have to spell the end of an active life. If you are experiencing worrisome symptoms or persistent pain, the renowned arthritis specialists at Summit Orthopedics can help. We work with you to confirm a diagnosis and develop an appropriate conservative treatment plan. If nonsurgical treatments fail to support your lifestyle goals, fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeons will consult with you and discuss appropriate surgical options. Summit is home to innovative joint replacement options. Our Vadnais Heights Surgery Center is one of only two surgery centers nationally to receive The Joint Commissions Advanced Certification for Total Hip and Total Knee Replacement.
Summit has convenient locations across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, serving Minnesota and western Wisconsin. We have state-of-the-art centers for comprehensive orthopedic care in Eagan, MN, Plymouth, MN, Vadnais Heights, MN, and Woodbury, MN, as well as additional community clinics throughout the metro and southern Minnesota.