If you suffer from arthritis, you feel that anything you do to ease the pain and stiffness is a welcome relief. You must have heard people advise you to use heat therapy to relieve the pain. Many doctors also suggest both heat and cold therapies to ease the pain and stiffness of the bones and joints. But heat therapy is more popular option of combatting this condition. So, here is the insight into this treatment for arthritis.
What is Heat Therapy?
Heat therapy is an inexpensive but effective way of treating arthritis-related aches and pains. It is a form of applying heat to the affected joints. It can help to alleviate the pain, stiffness and swelling. Heat helps to relax the muscles and improve blood flow in the muscles and joints. A person can use heat therapy right at the start of the day to loosen up an osteoarthritic knee. It is often used in combination with cold therapy. But it can be used by itself too.
How does the heat help relieve Arthritis pain?
Heat therapy works by stimulating your body’s own healing force. You can use dry heat such as, heating pads or heat lamps in this therapy, or moist heat like heated wash cloths or warm baths. This is how heat therapy helps:
- Heat dilates the blood vessels in your body. This stimulates the blood circulation and the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles. In this way, the therapy helps to reduce muscle spasms and heal damaged tissue.
- Heat helps to change the sensation of pain by reducing transmissions of pain signals to the brain.
- The warmth enhances the pliability of the muscles and connective tissue. Thus it helps in increasing joint flexibility.
What temperature and duration is best for heat therapy?
When you are using heat therapy, it is important to take care that the temperature is not so hot that it burns the skin. You need to decide on a temperature which you can comfortably tolerate – whether you are using a bath, or spa or a hot bottle. As for the application, you need to give it time to work. It also depends on where the pain is located. For the heat
therapy to be effective, it needs to penetrate down into the affected muscles and joint tissues. Too brief a session will only warm the skin and do no real work. Minor to moderate joint pain in places close to the skin’s surface requires about 15 to 20 minutes of therapy. Deeper injuries in the hip or lower back need sessions of 30 minutes or more.
How often to use Heat Therapy?
You should try to use moist heat packs at least twice a day to get the best relief. They can be used for 15 minutes before the physical therapy and then used again immediately after the exercise. A five-to-ten minutes heat massage applied to the painful area within the first 48 hours provides effective relief.
When not to use Heat Therapy?
There are certain circumstances when heat therapy is not a suitable option of treatment. This therapy should not be used in the following situations:
- If the joint is swollen or bruised.
- For people with heart diseases or hypertension.
- If one is pregnant, especially avoid hot tubs and spas.
- If there is an open wound.
- If the person has skin problems like dermatitis.
- For people with diabetes.
- For people with deep vein thrombosis.
- If the person has severe cognitive impairment.
- For people with peripheral vascular disease.
Ways to apply heat to an Arthritic Joint?
Applying heat to an arthritic joint does wonders for this chronic condition. Here are nine common methods of applying it:
- Hot water bottle: A rubber or soft plastic water bottle is used. It is filled up with hot water and applied on to the affected areas. The bottle tends to stay warm for at least 25 to 30 minutes.
- Heated gel packs: These are sold at most convenience stores. Heated wraps and gel packs need to be microwaved or heated in water before using. They tend to stay warm for half an hour.
- Heat patches: These are disposable, adhesive applications which are worn against the skin. These are worn under the clothing and makes for a convenient pain-relief method. They provide several hours of emitting low level heat. Some of these patches also come with pain-relieving ointments for optimum effect.
- Electric heating pad: These are one of the best options to heat a larger surface area of the body like the back or hip. You need to plug them in and use them for 20-25 minutes. They have the ability to maintain a constant level of heat.
- Heated dry rice pillow: A rice pillow is made up of 100% cotton cloth and filled up with dry white rice. It should be microwaved for about 3 minutes and then used for a 20-minute warmth session.
- Hot bath, hot tub or sauna: These methods make use of moist heat to stimulate feelings of comfort and relaxation. It helps to reduce the pain and loosen up the joints. At times, a hot shower may act as a substitute when a hot bath is unavailable.
- Paraffin bath: You need to plug it in to melt the paraffin. Dip your hands or feet in the bath several times to coat with wax. Wrap them in a plastic bag to retain the heat for about 20 minutes. Then peel off the wax. But remember to test with a finger before immersing your hands/feet. The melting wax should be warm and not scalding, about 52 degrees Celsius.
- Dry Sauna: A dry sauna can also be used to get relaxed. It helps to reduce the joint pain and stiffness.
- Car seat warmer: If you are experiencing pain and stiffness because of back or hip arthritis, a car seat warmer may be a good idea. It can be an easy way of applying gentle heat to the affected spine and hips.
If you are an Arthritis patient who has not given a shot at heat therapy yet, it is time for you to do so. It is an easy, convenient and inexpensive way to deal with arthritis pain on a daily basis. You can use it alone or in conjunction with other therapies like physiotherapy and even cold therapy. But do remember to consult your doctor before trying any of the methods for the first time.