5 Ways to Apply Heat to an Arthritic Joint


Heat therapy is an effective, easy, and cheap option to ease arthritic joint pain. Heat therapy is applied to loosen stiff joints and tissue around the affected area. The heat should be warm not hot to avoid burns on the skin, increase in pain, and to provide effective constant temperature during the treatment. The therapy is beneficial when used before exercising or upon wakening in the morning. Listed below are reasons why heat therapy helps relieve arthritic pain.

  • Heat treatment dilates the blood vessel, which increases circulation that transports the nutrients to affected muscle.
  • The warmth decreases joint stiffness and increases flexibility in the joint.
  • Once the joint is warm, movement produces fluid production which increases the lubrication that supplies the nutrients to the arthritic joint.
  • The skin sensory receptors are stimulated to disrupt the pain signal from reaching the brain, while having a comfortable feeling.
  • Most affective when heat therapy is combined with other treatments such as physical therapy and exercise.

Heat should be applied depending on the area of the affected joint. On minor injuries and joints closer to the skin’s surface, such as the ankle, you might only need to apply heat for 15-20 minutes. While applying heat for arthritis in the lower back or hip, a deeper injury or severe pain, may need an application of 30 minutes or longer.

Under these circumstances, heat is recommended to be avoided. Consult your healthcare provider before applying heat for your arthritic pain relief:

  • Bruised
  • Swollen
  • Dermatitis
  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • Diabetes
  • Peripheral vascular disease
  • Severe cognitive impairment
  • Open wound
  • Hypertension
  • Heart disease

There are two forms of heat, dry and moist. Dry heat, such as a heating pad, is often preferred by many people, but the dry heat may dehydrate the skin. Moist heat penetrates deeper into muscles and tissue.

  • Moist heat
    Hot water bottle stays warm for 20-30 minutes.
  • Electric heating pad
    Provides constant level of heat.
  • Warm bath, hot tub, steam sauna
    The moist heat provides relaxation to relieve pain and ease stiff joints and tissue.
  • Heated wraps and pillows with dry rice
    The 100% cloth filled with dry white rice provides moist heat. Microwave the wrap for 3 minutes to stay warm for about 20 minutes.
  • Paraffin wax treatment
    Placing hands and feet into paraffin wax can ease painful arthritic joint. The temperature should be set at about 125 degree Fahrenheit.

Everyone reacts to treatment differently and may require some trials to determine what provides the best pain relief for you.

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