Arthritis Pain - Which is Best, Heat or Ice?

Whether to use heat therapy or cold therapy for arthritis pain depends on the type of arthritis and the type of pain you are experiencing. Since everyone experiences and responds to pain differently, you should discuss a pain management plan with your doctor. You may have to try several things to see what works.

When to Use Ice to Treat Arthritis Pain

According to Dr. Kevin Sperber, Board Certified Pain Management Specialist at Columbia University,
“As a general rule of thumb, ice is best for soft tissue musculoskeletal injuries such as bruises, sprains or acute trauma. Cold therapy may also be beneficial if you experience a flare of pain after activity. Cold acts as an analgesic by numbing the sore area and can also drastically reduce swelling and discomfort.”

Traditionally, doctors recommend cold packs be applied for only 10-20 minutes at a time. With prolonged application of cold you could hurt yourself, especially if you have sensory problems or impaired vascular circulation in your hands and feet.

When to Use Heat to Treat Arthritis Pain

Therapeutic Heat is more commonly recommended for arthritis pain because it relaxes tendons and ligaments thereby increasing flexibility and decreasing pain. Heat also increases blood flow and improves joint range of motion.

So why the debate over hot or cold? Dr. Sperber says that for acute injuries (sprains, strains, etc.) just about everyone recommends ice, but for chronic conditions, like arthritis, both cold and heat can help reduce inflammation, so it may come down to whichever feels better to you.

As for how heat should be used, there are competing problems. The trick is to get enough heat into the tissue, for long enough, without burning your skin. For example, hands heat up fairly easily because the tissue is not “deep”, but for deep tissue pain, in the hip for instance, you may need to apply a lower temperature for a longer time. There are specific products that address these issues and each product comes with recommended time usage guidelines.

Most Popular Cold Therapy Products:

  • Frozen Gel Cold Packs. Save your frozen peas and use a pliable, reusable “ice pack” instead. ColPaC makes them in lots of sizes and shapes. Keep ice packs in the freezer and they’ll be ready whenever you have a flare-up. Remember to use layers of dry terry toweling between the cold pack and your skin.
  • Biofreeze. This topical pain reliever is highly recommended for temporary relief of arthritis, tendonitis and fybromyalgia. You can order it in a tube, roll-on, spray or gel pump.

Most Popular Hot Therapy Products

  • Portable Inflatable Whirlpool Spa. Get the benefits of a hot tub without the expense of installing one. The ultimate in heat therapy, relaxation and pain/stress relief, portable whirlpools are highly recommended by arthritis pain sufferers. They can be placed indoors, outdoors, on your patio, on your deck, in your RV, in your condo or your apartment. We recommend the Spa2Go or the Spa-N-A-Box because they are easy to assemble (20 minutes) and there is no special wiring or plumbing needed.
  • Infrared Heat. Sometimes deep penetrating heat is the best thing to reduce your arthritis pain. The Thermotex Infrared Heating Pad TTS Platinum model is the most popular although there are other Thermotex therapy systems available. The TTS Platinum is a nice portable size (17” x 15”) and has adjustable straps so you can fit it comfortably almost anywhere on the body.
  • Light Relief Light Therapy. This hand-held device provides topical heating to elevate and/or maintain tissue temperature wherever it is placed. My grandmother uses it to relieve joint pain and she loves it. One of our Allegro customers used it to relieve pain in her dog!
  • Paraffin Bath. Dip your hands, feet or elbows in melted paraffin wax and let the intense heat spread through your stiff arthritic joints for fast acting, drug-free therapy. The best one on the market is the Therabath PRO Paraffin Bath. This unit is large enough to accommodate your hands, feet or elbows but small enough to fit on your countertop. It includes hospital grade paraffin with your choice of scents.

* Moist Heat. Arthritic and rheumatic pain is often relieved with moist heat. Moist heat increases blood flow, soothing inflamed joints and increasing flexibility. We suggest the Theratherm Digital Electric Moist Heating Pad, the Thermophore Automatic Moist Heat Pack or the Thermophore Arthritis Pad. There’s also a Therabeads Moist Heat Mitt that you wear on your hands.

  • Arthritis Gloves. These specially designed arthritis gloves provide mild compression and warmth for your hands. Heat increases circulation which reduces aches and stiffness. Some people wear them day and night. They have open fingertips so your can feel, touch and grip.

Thousands of Allegro Medical customers have found relief with these products. So can you. Order yours today.

Check out all of our hot/cold therapy products or go to our Arthritis category to see all arthritis products.