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Should I Use a Hot or Cold Pack When My PsA is Flaring?

Recently, I attended the Be Joint Smart event sponsored by the National Psoriasis Foundation. Everyone in attendance heard from medical professionals on the best practices involving treatment, nutrition, and exercise while living with psoriatic disease. One topic discussed was the use of heat and cold packs for pain relief.

I’ve heard people say they find temporary relief from psoriatic pain by using hot and cold packs on flared joints, but is there a right or wrong way to use temperature on your achy areas? The answer is yes, if the temperature isn’t used in the correct way one could be inciting additional damage. Check out these tips on when and why an individual should use hot or cold based on current symptoms.

When should you use a cold pack?

Let’s do a symptom check – are your joints currently warm and swollen? Dr. Mala Kaul, a rheumatologist and speaker at the event, stated that cold packs should be used when joints are inflamed and feel hot. “When there is inflammation, you want the blood vessels to constrict, so that’s when cold is good. When you put something cold on the body all the blood vessels start to constrict,” explained Dr. Kaul. This constricting can numb the area, ultimately dulling the pain.

She also advised that heat should never be used on an area that feels warm to touch. Heat to an area that is already hot can cause further swelling and redness.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, cold packs will help to alleviate pain by restricting blood vessels and slowing down circulation which decreases swollen joints and inflammation. It is also useful if the area which is flared feels hot, is red, or has a burning sensation.

Dr. Kaul warns one should never use a cold pack to joints which are stiff or if you have circulatory issues.

Cold packs, bags of frozen veggies wrapped with a towel, or ice baths for the affected areas are all adequate ways to relieve pain using cold temperatures.

When should you use heat?

Heat packs should be used when stiffness (without heat) is present in the joints. The Arthritis Foundation states that heat helps aid in circulation and loosen up one’s joints. This helps to decrease pain signals sent from the pain to the joints.

Heating pads, warm showers or baths, a warm bottle of water, or soaking in the jacuzzi are all great options as ways to apply heat to your affected areas.

Neither of these options should be used for longer than 15 mins at a time. Please talk to your doctor about what to use for your current symptoms before attempting anything you read in this article.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Psoriatic-Arthritis.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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