Arthritis Today

Using Heat and Cold for Pain Relief

This basic but effective therapy can help ease arthritis pain.


Two of the simplest, least expensive and most effective methods of pain relief are heat and cold treatments.

Heat treatments, such as heat pads or warm baths, tend to work best for soothing stiff joints and tired muscles. Heat is especially good for getting your body limber and ready for exercise or activity. Cold is best for acute pain, numbing painful areas and decreasing inflammation and swelling.

There are many forms of heat and cold therapy. Experiment with some of the following ideas to find out which ones provide the best pain relief for you.

Heat treatments

  • Take a long, warm shower when you awaken to ease morning stiffness.
  • Try using a warm paraffin wax treatment system, available at many drugstores or beauty-supply stores.
  • Soak in a warm bath or whirlpool.
  • Buy moist heat pads from the drugstore, or make one at home by putting a wet washcloth in a freezer bag and heating it in the microwave for one minute. Wrap the hot pack in a towel and place it over the affected area for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • To soothe stiff and painful joints in your hands, apply mineral oil to them, put on rubber dish washing gloves, and place your hands in hot tap water for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Incorporate other warming elements into your daily routines, such as warming your clothes in the dryer before dressing, or using an electric blanket and turning it up for a few minutes before getting out of bed.

Cold treatments

  • Apply a bag of ice wrapped in a towel or a gel-filled cold pack from the drugstore to painful areas for about 10 minutes.
  • Wrap a towel around a bag of frozen vegetables and place it on sore joints for pain relief. This type of cold pack easily conforms to your body.