If you suffer from arthritis, you'll know how painful the condition can be. When your joints are stiff and sore, applying heat or cold can provide relief - knowing which one will work best depends on the type of discomfort you have.
When to use heat
Heat helps to relax sore muscles and soothe stiff joints. It's also a good choice to apply heat before exercise, as it can improve your workout by making muscles and joints more limber.
There are lots of ways to apply heat. For example, you could use disposable heat patches, which are hot packs that you warm in the microwave or warm moist towels. A warm shower or bath is also an option, as is a heated pool or hot tub.
Whatever you choose, make sure the temperature is warm but not too hot. Wrap heat packs in a towel before placing them on the skin to prevent burns and be especially careful if you have diabetes or a circulation problem which can make it harder to feel pain. Heat should not be applied to a joint that is red, hot or swollen.
For joints that are red, hot or swollen, cold is best. Unlike heat which increases blood flow, cold narrows blood vessels. It reduces swelling and numbs pains making it a good choice when an arthritis flare-up first hits or joints become inflamed. It's also best for acute injuries such as sprains or pulled muscles.
To apply cold, you can use a gel-filled ice pack, ice cubs in a sealable plastic bag or even a packet of frozen vegetables. Wrap these in towel while applying them to your skin. If the skin turns red or becomes numb, remove it right away. Don't apply for more than 20 mins at a time, and don't use on skin that has cuts or sores.
Some people find that alternating between hot and cold works best. Finding what works for you might take some trial and error, so be willing to experiment.
Tenura Kitchen Grip Set, £13.99
Biofreeze Pain relieving Gel 118ml, £9.99, from Boots
Boots Hot/Cold Compress, £6.99