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What are the differences in treating arthritis pain with heat versus cold?

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Quick Answer

Heat therapy provides relief from arthritis pain by dilating the blood flow to the area to increase blood flow, while cold therapy constricts the blood vessels to numb the pain. Both are useful in bringing pain relief, but finding the right combination often requires trial and error, according to WebMD.

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Full Answer

Both dry and moist heat are helpful when suffering arthritis pain. When using heat therapy, it is essential that the temperature is not so hot it burns the skin. Moist heat is often helpful before and after exercise sessions. It helps to reduce muscle tension before the patient exercises and relieves the soreness after exercise. A warm compress, whirlpool, hot shower or heated swimming pool offers moist heat to bring pain relief, according to WebMD. Dry heat is supplied with heat lamps and heating pads.

Cold therapy numbs the pain and reduces inflammation, according to WebMD. While ice packs are the normal way of providing cold therapy, there are also nonflammable sprays that provide superficial cooling and pain relief, according to WebMD. Some patients find cold therapy provides them with better pain relief than moist heat, while others find alternating moist heat and cold therapy most effective. When suffering a new injury, icing the area helps to reduce inflammation and pain. The injured individual should avoid using heat therapy during the first 48 hours after a new injury.

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