Hot and cold treatments will not prevent flare-ups of rheumatism, but they can reduce pain and inflammation.
Doctors and physical therapists often recommend hot and cold therapy to relieve painful or stiff joints from rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and increase mobility. Together, these methods of temporarily relieving RA pain are called “thermotherapy.”
Although there is little evidence that heat therapy is medically beneficial, a study published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews on hot and cold treatments for rheumatoid arthritis concluded that superficial moist heat and cryotherapy (packs or cold baths) can be used as palliative or supportive therapy.
However, hot and cold treatments do not prevent flare-ups of rheumatoid arthritis. The use of heat or cold can be helpful, relieving and soothing. However, exercise, joint protection and other forms of education, and a protective splint may be more beneficial.
What heat therapy can do is reduce pain and inflammation, at least a little. Soaking in hot water or applying a heated compress is one of the oldest, cheapest, and safest forms of complementary therapy.
Hot care for rheumatoid arthritis
For someone with an inflammatory disease like RA, applying heat may seem counterintuitive. But because heat reduces muscle tension and stimulates blood circulation, many patients find that applying something warm, even if it’s just to warm your clothes in the dryer before getting dressed, or lying down with an electric blanket before you get up in the morning is simply easy on the joints. Heat can be effective because it helps relax muscles.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, when you warm a painful joint, the heat widens the blood vessels, allowing more blood, oxygen and nutrients to be delivered to the tissues.
Although there are no recent studies on rheumatoid arthritis, researchers conducted a study of 35 people with chronic, non-specific neck pain, which was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health in August 2020. They found that those who received heat therapy with a salt packet for 30 minutes twice a day for five days (in addition to performing a neck stabilization exercise) improved stiffness more than pain. a group of witnesses.
Since heat can promote inflammation, it should be avoided during an active inflammatory phase, when joint temperatures are high.
Cold treatment for rheumatoid arthritis
If your joints are inflamed, it makes sense that something cold could relieve the inflammation and therefore the pain. The main benefits of cold therapy are the reduction of inflammation, swelling, and pain, as well as the temporary relief of joint pain caused by an arthritis flare-up. Cold therapy is most effective during an acute attack. Cold therapy is helpful in lowering joint temperature, reducing pain, and decreasing inflammation. Like heat therapy, cold therapy comes in many forms.
A simple method to cool the joints is to take a bath in cold water in a bathtub. Don’t let the water get so cold that it chills you. Cold compresses that are placed directly on a painful joint range from common items, bags of frozen peas or gel packs found in pharmacies, to complete systems of coolers, cooling pads and devices adapted to certain parts of the body, such as the knees and the back. But if the cold isn’t pleasant or you can’t stand it, stop using it.
Other people who should avoid or limit cold therapy are people with Raynaud’s syndrome, a condition in which the small blood vessels in the fingers or toes constrict when exposed to cold. If you have this syndrome, you probably shouldn’t use cold therapy on the affected body parts.
Always consult your doctor or physical therapist before trying hot or cold therapy for rheumatoid arthritis.
5 tips for using heat therapy for rheumatism
Use safe heat sources that don’t let the temperature get hot, including hot towels, hot tubs, showers or baths, hot water bottles, microwave heating pads, and electric heating pads.
To avoid burns, do not use heat for excessive periods of time (follow manufacturer’s instructions).
When using heating pads or hot water bottles, place a towel or cloth over your skin first, to avoid direct contact with the heat source.
Check your skin often for redness when applying heat and remove the heat source if redness appears.
5 Tips for Using Cold Therapy for RA
For cold therapy, use a bag of frozen peas, wrap ice in a thin towel, or use commercially available cold gel packs.
Avoid applying ice or cold packs directly to the skin, use a towel or cloth between the cold device and the skin.
To avoid frostbite, do not apply cold for more than 15 minutes at a time.
Allow your skin to return to its normal temperature and color before using the cold again.
Do not alternate hot and cold without taking a break. Wait a few hours between two sessions before moving on to the other.
If you use any of these hot or cold methods and they don’t give you relief, or seem to make your rheumatoid arthritis symptoms worse, talk to your doctor.