How to Ease Arthritis - Heat vs. Cold

Heat vs Cold

Arthritis is inflammatory, and cold application is the recommendation. However, everyone is different and some bodies respond better to warmth. Try both to see which is better for you.


  • There are several ways to apply cold to painful joints. A Ziploc bag of crushed ice is a good start.

  • You can also fill small, paper Dixie cups about 2/3 with water a freeze - peel back the paper at the top and directly apply the ice to the sore joint. It gets cold faster, so you don't have to spend too much time doing this.
  • Slush pack - Mix 2 to 3 parts water with 1 part rubbing alcohol in a Ziploc bag and freeze. This makes the bag conform better, easy to lay over your hand and get good contact while cooling.
  • REMEMBER - Only apply ice for about 15 minutes. If you ice too long, the effect is counterproductive.


  • There are the over-the-counter heating pads, which will provide a neutral warmth. Some come with a steam component now, and moist heat is generally more effective.

  • The most popular heating component for arthritic hands is a paraffin bath. Several small models are available, made just for hands.

    • Wash hands thoroughly.

    • Be sure the temperature of the bath is correct. Read the manufacturers instructions.

    • Insert your hand into the bath and lift back out - allow the wax to drip dry for a moment. Don't wait too long - the goal is to build up heat, and the longer it cools the less heat you will have.


    • Dip about 6-7 times, building up a thick waxy coat. Be sure to keep your hand still so as not to break the seal. The wax should be uniform, smooth and crack-free when you are finished.

    • Cover your hand with a plastic bag - most units come with them.

    • Cover the bag with a towel or blanket. The more insulation, the longer the heating effect will last.

    • In about 20 minutes you will notice that it has cooled significantly - simply use the bag to peel off the wax, as if removing a glove from the inside out. Your wax is in the bag - now discard.

    • You can recycle the wax and place it back in the bath to melt and reuse, but it will place some of your old skin cells in the wax and it will become dingy and with sediment before long. Replacement blocks of wax can be purchased - they even come with scents if you like!

Check with your doctor before applying anything at home. Be extra careful if you have numbness in your hands, diabetic neuropathy or the like - your diminished sensation could lead to a burn.

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Comments 6 comments

Zsuzsy Bee profile image

Zsuzsy Bee 8 years ago from Ontario/Canada

Good advice for arthrithis sufferers. I can vouch for the paraffin hand bath to help some.

regards Zsuzsy

Kat07 profile image

Kat07 8 years ago from Tampa Author

Heat is so comforting, and the paraffin delivers it in such a mild manner, it's no wonder it's so highly preferred! How often do you use your paraffin bath?

C.S.Alexis profile image

C.S.Alexis 8 years ago from NW Indiana

A dip in Lake Michigan always seem to soothe my pains. I like to use heat and cold. I think the all over affects of complete submersion in the lake works because it lowers the body temperature a tad. Then a good bake in the sun. It does me wonders. I do feel that it depends on the individual.

Kat07 profile image

Kat07 8 years ago from Tampa Author

It really does depend on what feels comforting. I always recommend cold for the inflammation, but for some reason heat appeals to arthritis pain so much more!

sudhan45 profile image

sudhan45 7 years ago

Thanks for sharing the information

winterz 6 years ago

I've always just used cold as I sort of treated it as I would a soft-tissue injury. But I can see why heat would actually help too. Thanks for the information!

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