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Learn How Hot and Cold Therapies Can Treat Arthritis

If you know the pain of arthritis, you’re not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 23 percent of all adults -- or more than 54 million people -- have arthritis. This common, painful condition causes swelling of the joints, particularly in your hands, knees, and hips.

Arthritis makes it more difficult to go about your daily life, and it limits some of your activity. Although medications can help arthritis, many people prefer to avoid unnecessary medication use. Fortunately, there are some lower-tech options available to you. Dr. William Brelsford offers this guide to help you learn about other treatments.

The role of temperature and arthritis

Many arthritis sufferers will tell you that certain temperatures bother their arthritis more and cause symptoms to flare up. You may even know someone who says they can predict the coming weather based on their symptoms. They’re not just making it up: arthritis symptoms worsen with each 10-degree drop in temperature or when the barometric pressure is rising.

Whether hot or cold temperatures affect you more depends on the individual. However, you can also use temperature to your advantage in treating your arthritis. Some people find that exposure to either heat or cold can actually provide relief from their arthritis symptoms. Sometimes, Dr. Brelsford may alternate both hot and cold therapy to see which provides you the most relief.

Heat therapy for arthritis relief

You probably enjoy the feeling of being under a warm blanket on a chilly night. Hot therapies can be soothing in a similar way. But the principles behind why hot therapy can work for arthritis relief is based on science.

Heat dilates your blood vessels, sends more blood flow to the affected areas, and provides relief from muscle spasms. Heat also alters your perception of pain, meaning that the amount of pain you feel can become significantly lessened. 

You may try either a dry heat (such as from hot lamps or blankets) or a moist heat (such as in a bath or by wrapping wet towels around the affected areas.) Hot therapy can improve your range of motion and reduce muscle stiffness, giving you temporary relief.

Cold therapy for arthritis relief 

If you’re familiar with the concept of putting an ice pack on a swollen ankle, you already understand the value of cold therapy. But when it comes to treating arthritis, cold therapy relieves pain by reducing swelling. Because swelling is a significant factor in arthritis pain, reducing that swelling can be a good thing.

Cold therapy does the opposite of heat therapy but it still often works to provide relief. Cold causes blood vessels to constrict, sending blood away from the affected areas. Another benefit of cold therapy is that it reduces the inflammation that causes swelling.

Examples of what we might use for cold therapy include using ice packs or cold compresses. Although it may hurt a bit more at first, cold therapy has the benefit of numbing deep pain. 

Using hot and cold therapy can both provide temporary relief from the pain of arthritis. It’s important to allow time for each to work, as the results tend to appear after about 15 minutes of use. But you also need to use caution when using each for pain relief. For example, you should not use heat therapy on a joint that’s already hot and irritated, and you shouldn’t use cold therapy on a joint that’s stiff and not moving well.

For best results, you might find that alternating hot and cold therapies can provide relief of your arthritis symptoms. If you have more questions about hot and cold therapies or about treating arthritis in general, contact Dr. Brelsford or request an appointment online.

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