When you experience arthritis pains in a joint, there are times when you might prefer to relieve it with a heat pack and others when you would use a cool pack. If arthritic joints in seniors could speak for themselves, they would tell us which they prefer… but we will have to understand for ourselves.
When is a heat pack useful and when should cool packs be used instead?
Heating things up for a stiff or painful joint, is something to be hot about, since:
- Feeling the comforting warmth overtakes the sensations of pain neurologically.
- Warmth stimulates production of the joint fluid. Gently bend, rub and stretch the joint at this time.
- Warm, balmy temperatures release stiffness in muscles. When gently excising the joint, notice if it is more pliable than previously.
- With heat, the blood flow is encouraged. More nutrients can flow to the area of the joint. It is an opportunity for regeneration (growing and repair) of some parts of the joint. Unfortunately, science has not yet found a way to repair the cartilage itself. Use of biomimetic gel is being investigated (on animals), but is not ready for humans to use.
It’s cool to be cool with arthritis, since it has the following benefits:
- Feeling the coolness will take away from feeling the pain neurologically.
- Coolness slows things down, and it will reduce production of the excess joint fluid causing the feeling of swelling. Rest the joint at this point in time.
- It also decreases the blood flow to the area that was cooled, reducing the local inflammation.
- Cool packs are also good for any swollen or bruised joints, or an injury (with your doctor’s approval).
Reasons to Withhold From Heat or Cold Packs
Avoid using heat packs if you have :
- a heart condition, unless the doctor approves of it.
- a skin condition, a blood clotting problem, diabetes (due to sensory issues), PVD (peripheral vascular disease), an open wound.
- lack of understanding safety issues.
People who should avoid using cold packs are people:
- with Raynaud’s Syndrome and have an exaggerateג response to cold or loose circulation in extremities.
- who have allergic reactions to cold.
- with nerve damage or sensory damage.
Which Pack should I choose for Arthritic Joints in Seniors, Heat or Cool?
Arthritic joints in seniors can be very idiosyncratic.
The rule (apart from the guidelines above) is to do what feels good. If you wake up stiff, then warm up the joint if it feels good. Later in the day, after you have been energetic and moved about, a cold pack might feel better.
Alternating heat and cold packs can do wonders to open tight muscles and might also be good for joints. Get a doctors approval if you have a condition affecting your circulation before alternating hot and cold packs.
Cold packs are usually used wrapped, to avoid ice-skin burns, and for a limited time. 15-20 minutes is usually the recommended time for cool packs. Heat packs, also wrapped, and tested that they are of a gentle warmth, can be used for longer. You want to give the heat time to get to the depth of the joint.
New materials are being investigated for easing arthritic joints in seniors. It is such a widespread disease. Many seniors are waiting hopefully for the new products of scientific research, that will ease the symptoms of arthritic joints in seniors.