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reviewed 11/22/2019

Temperature therapy: How to use heat and cold to ease arthritis pain

Heat and cold treatments are two of the most effective ways to ease arthritis pain. They work differently though. Select heat or cold to get some ideas for when and how to use each type of therapy.


Heat improves circulation. Use it to relax muscles and soothe sore joints.

  • Make a hot pack by putting a wet washcloth in a freezer bag and heating it in the microwave. Wrap it in a towel and use it on sore spots.
  • Rub mineral oil on your hands, put on rubber gloves and place your hands in hot tap water for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Heat your clothes in the dryer before getting dressed in the morning.
  • Use a warm paraffin wax treatment system for sore joints in the hands or feet.
  • Take a warm shower or bath to relieve stiffness.
  • Place a heating pad over the painful area.

Limit heat therapy to no more than 20 minutes at a time.

Don't apply heat packs or pads to bare skin.


Cold restricts blood vessels and slows circulation. It also numbs nerve endings. Use it to reduce swelling and ease acute pain.

  • Immerse a painful joint in a cold bath of ice and water.
  • Make a cold pack by wrapping a towel around a bag of ice or frozen vegetables. Apply the pack to the painful area two to four times a day.
  • Wrap a cold gel pack in a towel and place it on the affected area. Make your own pack by mixing 1 cup of rubbing alcohol with 2 cups of water and freezing it in a ziplock bag.

Limit cold therapy to no more than 20 minutes at a time.

Don't apply cold packs to bare skin.

FEEL BETTER: Learn other methods for feeling better by taking our chronic pain quiz.

Source: Arthritis Foundation

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