Osteoarthritis: Heat and Cold Therapy

Search Knowledgebase

Topic Contents

Osteoarthritis: Heat and Cold Therapy

Topic Overview

For moderate to severe pain from osteoarthritis, try applying heat and cold to the affected joints as appropriate. Experiment with these heat and cold techniques until you find what helps you most.

  • Apply heat 2 or 3 times a day for 20 to 30 minutes, using a heating pad, hot shower, or hot pack. Heat seems to be effective for pain and stiffness related to inactivity of a joint.
  • Try putting cold packs on a painful joint for 10 to 20 minutes. Do not apply a cold pack directly to bare skin. Put a thin towel or pillowcase between the ice and your skin.
  • Try ice massage. A small study showed that ice massage for 20 minutes, 5 days per week, improved range of motion and function, although its effect on pain was less clear.1
  • Try alternating between heat and cold.
  • After a heat or cold treatment, try some gentle massage for relaxation and pain relief.

Paraffin wax is a form of moist heat that may help if you have pain and stiffness in your hands or feet. It is especially useful before exercise. Your physiotherapist can teach you to use paraffin at home.

References

Citations

  1. Cochrane Musculoskeletal Group (2004). Thermotherapy for treatment of osteoarthritis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2). Oxford: Update Software.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Andrew Swan, MD, CCFP, FCFP - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer David A. Fleckenstein, PT, MPT - Physical Therapy
Last Revised June 6, 2011

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.