Heat and cold for psoriatic arthritis: safety, methods and more


Heat and cold therapies for psoriatic arthritis (PsA) may provide some symptom relief. Although generally safe, be careful with both methods and learn when it’s best to use one or the other.

Heat therapy works by loosening stiff joints. It does this by increasing blood flow to the joints and the muscles around them. Relaxing joints and muscles can provide some relief from symptoms commonly associated with PA such as joint stiffness and body aches.

Cold therapy has the opposite effect. When you use cold therapy, you reduce blood flow to muscles and joints. The restricted blood supply helps reduce inflammation and swelling.

Generally speaking, heat and cold therapies are safe as long as you follow the recommendations on how to perform them.

For example, you should only use direct heat treatments, such as warm compresses, for no more than 20 minutes at a time. Likewise, you should only use cold therapy for longer than 15 minutes at a time.

You’ll probably find that alternating between heat and cold therapies works best, but you need to be careful not to switch too quickly. Often, waiting a few hours or overnight is the safest way to go.

When using either method, you must use a barrier between the heat or cold source and your skin. This can help avoid hurting your skin through direct contact.

Heat and cold have opposite effects on surrounding joints and muscles. This difference impacts when you should use one or the other.

Heat increases blood flow, which can reduce joint stiffness. You should avoid using heat if you:

  • have an acute injury
  • experience a flare-up of symptoms
  • you experience sudden swelling or redness, possibly due to excessive heat application the night before

Cold therapy causes reduced blood flow to surrounding joints and muscles, which reduces inflammation and swelling. Cold therapy often works best when used during a flare of these PsA symptoms.

There are several ways to use heat therapy at home. Try one of the following solutions.

take a hot shower

A hot shower can provide gentle warmth to most of the body. While showering, you can try doing small exercises to increase your range of motion and help stimulate the joints.

Soak in a hot bath

Similar to a shower, baths can provide gentle warmth all over the body, but don’t stay too long. You can add bath salts and additives to help the skin, but make sure they are safe for psoriasis symptoms.

Swim in a hot pool

Swimming in a warm pool is a great way to increase flexibility and strengthen your muscles. Being in a pool reduces the force of gravity on your body and can provide extra range of motion.

Experts have found that swimming two or three times a week can reduce pain by up to 40 percent.

Apply moist heat

Moist heat may be safer for applying heat directly to a specific joint. You can use a homemade wrap by putting a damp towel in the microwave for about 20-60 seconds.

You can also purchase heated wraps designed specifically for certain body types. Apply heat with a fabric barrier directly to the joint for up to 20 minutes at a time.

Use mineral oils and rubber gloves

If PsA affects your hands, try this simple method. First, rub mineral oil on your hands. When you’re ready, place them in a pair of rubber gloves and run hot water over them. You can do this for about 5-10 minutes.

You can use cold therapy at home during flare-ups to soothe inflammation. Here are some methods that you might find useful.

Use frozen vegetables, a bag of ice cubes or a frozen napkin

Ice packs don’t have to be fancy. You can achieve the same effect as a store-bought bag of ice with common household items like a bag of frozen vegetables, ice cubes, or a frozen towel. When using a towel, dampen it, place it in a freezer bag, then freeze for at least 15 minutes.

Be sure to wrap your homemade ice pack in a thin piece of cloth and do not place the item directly on the skin.

Buy an ice or gel pack

If you’d rather not use the next day’s dinner on your joints, you can purchase an ice or gel pack. When using a store-bought ice pack, be sure to wrap it in a cloth and avoid direct skin contact. One of the benefits of an ice pack or gel pack is that it often conforms well to your joints.

Make your own reusable ice pack

You can also make your own ice or gel pack at home. You can place the rice in a sealable bag and then freeze it for easily reusable packaging.

To make something similar to a gel pack, you can use a combination of dish detergent and water in a sealed bag. You can use both repeatedly.

Make an ice massager

You can make a one-time use ice massager out of a paper cup and water. Fill a paper cup with water, then freeze it. Once it’s frozen solid, peel off the paper, leaving enough paper to hold it, and rub the ice on any sore joints or muscles.

Although heat and cold therapies can provide temporary relief and improve your symptoms, you will need additional therapies to effectively treat PA. If you think you’re experiencing PSA symptoms for the first time, see your doctor.

There is no cure for PA, but treatment can help both reduce symptoms and slow disease progression. Common treatments for PSA that a doctor can help you with include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers and pain relievers, such as ibuprofen
  • Glucocorticoids: usually given by injection to help relieve inflammation and reduce joint pain
  • Methotrexate: helps manage swelling and inflammation throughout the body
  • Organic Products : targeted therapy to reduce symptoms and prevent disease progression
  • JAK inhibitors: another targeted therapy that helps prevent progression and relieve symptoms

Heat and cold therapies can help relieve symptoms of PA. Heat therapy increases blood flow to loosen stiff joints, while cold therapy decreases blood flow to reduce swelling and inflammation.

You should only use both therapies for short periods of time each session. Avoid heat if you experience a flare-up of symptoms.

Neither treatment option should involve costly intervention. Often you can do one or the other with items around the house or available at your local store, such as a cold compress.


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