Apart from medicines, exercises and a balanced diet, direct application of different remedies on the external surface of the pain area has proven to be beneficial for osteoarthritis.
Heat and cold therapy is a method of alleviating pain and managing arthritis as well as muscle injury. This simple and effective home treatment offers a balanced approach to help bring down inflammation, ease muscle spasms and lessen acute pain. Typically, doctors recommend cold therapy as the first line of defense in the event of muscle injury. However, with stiffness in muscles or joints, the logical step would be heat therapy instead, which is effective in easing that area and promotes greater flexibility. It takes experimentation to find which mix of cooling and heat treatments works best for you.
Studies on the effects of heat and cold therapy for arthritis found that it had beneficial effects on pain, joint stiffness and joint function in inflamed joints. What makes it effective is that when you locally apply heat and cold, it affects not only the surface skin but also the deeper tissues in addition to your joint cavity. In the case of inflamed joints or swelling caused by arthritis, cold treatment would be called for. It decreases pain by not only slowing down the blood flow, but also by easing nerve activity for a while. Where there is arthritic stiffness, heat application goes a long way in improving the range of movement.
There are many ways of applying heat to the afflicted area, such as the use of steamed washcloths, heating pads, taking hot baths or using a sauna. Similarly, cold treatments include application of ice packs, ice baths or massages with the help of ice. At times, this could mean simply using a frozen bag of peas or similar item available in your freezer.
Most people are aware of the RICE treatment plan (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) for muscle sprains and strains. That is part of cold therapy as a first step, and heat therapy may follow after 48 hours, if needed. Remember that heat allows for pain relief in addition to better mobility, especially in case of sore muscles and acute back pain. Studies on the effects of heat and cold therapy for muscle injuries found that it helps to increase blood flow and improve the elasticity of connective tissues as well as reduce pain, inflammation and muscle spasms
Suggestions for heat and cold treatments for arthritis, listed above, also apply to therapy for muscle injury. Apply a bit of pressure while using packs, with the help of cling film or a towel. Please note that whether applying heat or cold therapy, the temperature should be comfortable and not extreme. Aim for 20 minutes of application with hot and cold packs.
Heat and cold therapy is a boon for those looking to manage muscle injury or arthritis at home and should be used alongside moderate exercises recommended by your doctor. Take basic, common-sense precautions, such as not using heat if there is an injury/open wound or if the patient shows signs of a fever. Further, if you are pregnant or if you have diabetes, dermatitis, sensory disorders, cardiovascular disease or any serious condition get a professional to administer this therapy. The goal of heat and cold therapy is to ease pain so use with caution and stop if levels of discomfort rise. Talk to your health care practitioner if there is no improvement or if the pain is severe.
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