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Arthritis is a condition that causes joint pain, inflammation, and stiffness. Though there’s no cure, you can use natural treatments such as heat and cold therapy to slow its progression and manage symptoms.

Heat and cold therapy are common treatments for arthritis due to their ability to alleviate pain, discomfort, and stiffness in joints, muscles, and soft tissues. The treatments may help to improve mobility, increase flexibility, and boost blood circulation, which may bring you immediate relief. Heat and cold therapy may also be slightly beneficial in improving function and quality of life.

You can use a combination of heat and cold therapy based on your symptoms and which treatments you find most effective, convenient, and enjoyable. Depending on time, convenience, and preference, you may add some of these therapies to your routine. Aim to do heat or cold treatments a few times daily.

Continue reading to learn more about the various types of heat and cold therapy. These simple treatments may relieve arthritis symptoms and help you to feel better.

Cold therapy, or cryotherapy, decreases blood flow to the affected area, which can reduce swelling and inflammation. It may have a numbing effect and help to relieve pain. However, it may exacerbate muscular tension.

In general, cold therapy is best for painful, inflamed joints, making it the best option for acute pain, inflammation, or swelling. It may be beneficial to do cold therapy after exercise or physical activity that causes discomfort. For best results, elevate the affected area.

Do not use cold therapy if you have poor circulation or a sensory condition such as diabetes that inhibits your ability to detect particular sensations. Talk with your doctor before using cold therapy if you have cardiovascular or heart disease.

To prevent nerve, tissue, and skin damage, do cold therapy for a maximum of 20 minutes. Continually check to make sure you can feel sensations in the affected area.

Ice pack

Apply a bag of frozen food, a bag of ice, or an ice pack to the affected area. You can also freeze a wet towel or sponge before applying it to the affected area. Wrap a towel around your ice pack to protect your skin.

Apply the pack for up to 20 minutes at a time. Stop the treatment if your skin begins to feel numb.

Check out some of the best ice packs for joint pain here.

Ice massage

Use an ice cube to massage the affected area. You can make a large ice block by freezing water in a paper cup.

Have a towel handy to absorb excess moisture.

Ice bath

You can take a full or partial ice bath to reduce inflammation and muscle pain. Stay in an ice bath for a maximum of 15 minutes.

Cold bath or shower

For an option that’s less extreme than an ice bath, take a cold bath or shower. According to a 2017 study, cold mist showers may help to reduce pain in people with chronic inflammatory arthritis.

There are several types of heat therapy, called thermotherapy, options for arthritis. Heat therapy improves circulation and causes your blood vessels to expand. This helps your body to deliver more blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the affected area, which may reduce inflammation, stiffness, and pain. Heat therapy may also improve mobility, which makes it easier to relax, loosen up, and move.

If a heat therapy session causes swelling, redness, or inflammation avoid further treatments until your symptoms subside. Avoid using heat therapy during a flare-up or the acute stage of an injury. Talk with a healthcare professional before using heat treatments if you have heart disease or high blood pressure.

Do not use heat therapy if you have any of the following conditions:

  • diabetes
  • dermatitis
  • vascular diseases
  • deep vein thrombosis
  • multiple sclerosis (MS)

Hot shower

Hot showers may be beneficial to prepare for exercise or the day ahead. They may alleviate stiffness, improve mobility, and increase flexibility. Make sure the water isn’t too hot, especially if you have any cardiovascular concerns.

Warm compress

Apply a hot water bottle, electric heating pad, or homemade heating pad to the area of concern for up to 20 minutes at a time. For a full-body treatment, use an electric blanket.

This therapy is not suitable for people who have diabetes, have impaired sensation, or have had a stroke.

Swim or exercise in warm water

Swimming and exercising in warm water allows you to build muscle strength, improve flexibility, and increase mobility while reducing compression to your joints. This may help to ease discomfort and alleviate stiffness.

If you live near a warm body of water, take a dip in a natural setting. Otherwise, find a heated pool in your area. Aim to spend at least 20 minutes in the water.


Take a warm bath to relax and release tension or pain. For more benefits, add ingredients such as baking soda, Epsom salts, or essential oils. You can bathe for up to 2 hours.

Saunas and steam rooms

You can use a dry sauna, infrared sauna, or steam room to improve circulation and alleviate stiffness.

The results of a 2018 review suggest that consistent use of a dry sauna is beneficial for people with rheumatoid arthritis as well as chronic pain syndrome. It may also help athletes to improve performance.

You can stay in a dry sauna or steam room for up to 15 minutes though you may want to begin with shorter sessions. Give yourself plenty of time to cool down in between sessions.

If you’re pregnant, talk with your doctor before using a sauna or steam room.

Paraffin wax treatment

This treatment may help to boost circulation, receive tension, and alleviate stiffness.

To do a paraffin wax treatment, dip your hands or feet in hot paraffin wax and cover the area with plastic or a towel. After 20 minutes, remove the wax. Pay attention to how your skin reacts and look out for any adverse reactions.

Many people find it beneficial to alternate between heat and cold therapy. You can switch between hot and cold therapies throughout the day. Usually, it’s best to wait at around 20 minutes between sessions, though you can also alternate between hot and cold water in the shower. Always start and finish with a cold treatment.

Talk with your doctor before alternating between full-body treatments such as an ice bath and a sauna or hot tub.

If you’re looking for remedies for arthritis to add to your existing treatment routine, heat and cold therapy are great options. You can use hot and cold therapies to manage symptoms of arthritis and improve your overall comfort.

Heat treatments help to relieve stiffness, improve circulation, and increase flexibility. Cold treatments alleviate pain and inflammation, which make them useful to do following physical activity. The effect of heat and cold therapy may only last a few hours, though over time they may help to reduce the severity of pain and keep symptoms at bay for longer.

Choose the remedies that yield the best results and add them to your self-care routine. Always make sure to protect your skin since hot and cold therapy have the potential to cause skin damage. Talk with a healthcare professional before starting any new therapy, especially if you have any additional medical conditions or take medications.