Do heat and cold therapies relieve the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (RA)?

Updated: Feb 07, 2020
  • Author: Howard R Smith, MD; Chief Editor: Herbert S Diamond, MD  more...
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Answer

Application of heat, either superficial or deep, is an effective modality for the relief of joint pain and stiffness caused by RA. In addition, it is used to treat joints in preparation for ROM, stretching, and muscle-strengthening exercises. Superficial and deep heating methods have been shown to raise the intra-articular temperature in patients with RA. Heat may be delivered via the following:

  • Moist hot packs
  • Electric mittens
  • A hot shower
  • Spas
  • Ultrasonography
  • Diathermy
  • Paraffin

Cold is preferable for treatment of an acutely inflamed joint. Application of cold results in decreased pain and decreased muscle spasm. Cold may be delivered via ice packs, ice sticks, topical sprays, or ice water.


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