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Osteoarthritis: Heat and Cold Therapy

Topic Overview

For moderate to severe pain from osteoarthritis, try applying heat and cold to the affected joints. Experiment with these heat and cold techniques until you find what helps you most.

  • Apply heat 2 or 3 times a day for 20 to 30 minutes, using a heating pad, hot shower, or hot pack. Heat seems to be effective for pain and stiffness related to inactivity of a joint. If you are using an electric heating pad, avoid falling asleep while the pad is on. If you think you might fall asleep, set an alarm clock to go off in 20 minutes. Use heating pads set on low or medium, never on high.
  • Try putting cold packs on a painful joint for 10 to 20 minutes. Do not apply a cold pack directly to bare skin. Put a thin towel or pillowcase between the ice and your skin.
  • Try ice massage.
  • Try alternating between heat and cold.
  • After a heat or cold treatment, try some gentle massage for relaxation and pain relief.

Paraffin wax is a form of moist heat that may help if you have pain and stiffness in your hands or feet. It is especially useful before exercise. Your physical therapist can teach you to use paraffin at home.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Joan Rigg, PT, OCS - Physical Therapy
Last Revised April 8, 2013

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