Heat or cold for arthritis

by Nathan Wei, MD, FACP, FACR

Nathan Wei is a nationally known board-certified rheumatologist and author of the Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit. It's available exclusively at this website... not available in stores.

Click here: Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit

One of the most common questions is which is better for arthritis, heat or cold? The answer is… it depends.

Both are effective for arthritis. However each person is different and the timing of the problem also plays a role.

For flares, cold packs applied for 20 minutes can reduce swelling, pain, and inflammation by reducing blood flow. Patients with certain conditions such as cold hypersensitivity and Raynaud’s phenomenon should be cautious. Also a towel should be applied between the ice and the skin to prevent frostbite.

Hot packs applied for 20 minutes help decrease pain and stiffness in joints. The heat source should be watched carefully in order to avoid thermal injuries. Heat should not be used for acute flares... heat may aggravate swelling.

For soft tissue disorders such as tendonitis or bursitis, either heat or cold can be used. Whichever feels better is the obvious choice. For pain associated with muscle spasm, the same is true. However, oftentimes, moist heat works better than cold.

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