For the millions of people dealing with osteoarthritis, one of the first questions they ask themselves in the morning is, “Heat or cold?” Applying heat or cold is an effective, quick, and very convenient way to reduce pain, swelling, and stiffness, but is one better than the other? And, what are the best ways to use either method? We answer both of these questions and more in today’s blog.
Warm It Up
Throughout human history, people have used heat to deal with musculoskeletal injuries and pain, and that’s because when it’s directed at a specific part of the body, it can loosen up muscles, increase circulation, and improve flexibility. This helps someone feel better in the short term and also assists with the healing process. So, if you’ve been diagnosed with osteoarthritis, regularly using heat to manage your condition is a good idea.
It can be especially helpful in getting your muscles ready to exercise, which is another fantastic tool for dealing with the condition. Consistent exercise keeps the muscles around a joint strong and ensures they constantly receive fresh blood flow, which can preserve the surrounding soft tissues. Easy ways to utilize heat include taking a warm shower, sitting in a warm bath or hot tub, or using a heating pad. None of these methods is better than the other, so just use what works best for you.
Cool It Down
On the other side of the coin, cold can also be extremely useful for those with osteoarthritis, because it can dull acute pain and reduce inflammation and swelling. Basically, if you’re just sitting in your favorite chair and are feeling discomfort associated with your arthritic joint, putting a bag of ice on it should provide some immediate relief. Many people also use cold gel packs and even bags of frozen peas for compresses. This is a gentler and faster alternative to using pain meds, which after a certain point, come with their own set of issues. With cold, all you need to do is remember to remove it every 10-15 minutes, as prolonged exposure can potentially damage the skin.
Which One is Better?
Fortunately, in this case, you don’t have to choose: doctors say you can use both! The idea is to try both and see how your body reacts. If you have better results with one or the other, then use it more often. Generally, however, heat is better if you’re about to be active, while cold is better for when you’re relaxing. So, a common method is to apply heat to warm up, exercise, and then ice things down. This is a three-prong approach using methods that each help with osteoarthritis in different ways, with the result being that you’ll have less pain, more function, and a better quality of life.
About the Author
Dr. Paul Tortland is certified in both regenerative medicine as well as sports medicine, and he has decades of experience helping patients overcome musculoskeletal injuries without medication or surgery. While he recommends that all of his osteoarthritis patients use heat and cold, he says they shouldn’t substitute for a professional treatment. While heat and cold can help you manage the condition, only care from a doctor can directly slow down the loss of cartilage and fix any joint damage associated with it. To learn how Dr. Tortland could use stem cell therapy, PRP, prolotherapy, or other cutting-edge treatments to help you move like you used to, you can reach him through our website.