That bum knee. That stiff back. That sudden arthritis flare? Do you ice it? Heat it? Haven’t a clue? Read on to clear the confusion! And to get the best relief, ask your doctor about prescription medication and other treatments.
Hot: best for chronic pain and stiffness; recommended at least 48 to 72 hours after an injury
- Works by: stimulating circulation to the painful area, loosening muscles and increasing flexibility
- For best relief: Apply moist heat—it penetrates more deeply into tissues. Try a hot water bottle, hot pack, or a towel soaked in hot water. You can also purchase microwaveable moist heat packs or a moist heating pad meant to be used with water. Put a cloth between the pad and your skin to prevent burns.
- Apply for: 20 minutes at a time, up to 3 or 4 times a day
Cold: best for sudden swelling or inflammation, an arthritis flare, muscle spasms, an injury (e.g., a sprain)
- Works by: numbing nerves and shrinking blood vessels to reduce swelling
- For best relief: Use a flexible cold compress that hugs knees, shoulders, elbows and other body parts. Try freezer gel packs, a cloth dipped in ice water or a bag of frozen peas, and wrap the cold pack in a washcloth so it doesn’t contact your skin directly.
- Apply for: 20 minutes at a time, up to 3 times a day
For your safety
- Discontinue heat or cold treatments if pain gets worse and contact your physician.
- Do not use heat or cold treatment if you have poor circulation, nerve damage or open wounds without discussing with your doctor first.
- Set a timer if you are using an electric heating pad so you don’t fall asleep with the pad on