Ice or cold therapy numbs the joint areas affected by soreness, not allowing patients to perceive the pain and the symptoms associated with arthritis. Exposure to cold constricts the blood vessels, allowing the joint area to rest. It also helps in drastically reducing the swelling and discomfort of the joints, allowing you to remain active and practice exercise on a regular basis.
Using ice as an alternative to analgesics or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID’s), for the treatment of arthritis can help you overcome the side-effects like gastrointestinal disorders, depression, etc., associated with the usage of these drugs.
When to Use Cold Therapy
Ice is most commonly used for soft tissue injuries like sprains or for post-exercise muscle soreness. It can also be used for treating rheumatoid arthritis that is accompanied by inflammation, pain and swelling in the joint lining. However, ice cannot be used to ease stiffness in the joint that is associated with osteoarthritis, since it cannot promote relaxation of the muscles.
Hence, it is crucial to understand this difference and use ice only to decrease inflammation, soreness and a burning sensation in the joints. Ice can also be used during a flare up or a phase where the symptoms intensify, increasing the pain in the joints.
Different Ways of Using Ice
Placing an ice pack for 10-20 minutes is one of the most effective strategies of soothing pain instantly, thereby, alleviating the chronic joint pain associated with arthritis. One can use instant cold packs containing ammonium nitrate, gel packs or cooling pads that are available in drug stores.
Considering the fact that most arthritic patients have oddly shaped or distorted joints, flexible ice pack have been designed especially for knees and back that serve as the best way of using cold therapy for treating arthritis. Over-the-counter cold sprays and ointments, like Bio Freeze or CryoDerm are widely available as an alternative to ice packs, for numbing the nerves involved in pain perception, thus, relieving joint pains and inflammation. Less expensive ways include making an ice pack using crushed ice or frozen vegetables like peas and placing the pack in the freezer.
Never place an ice pack on the affected area for longer than 20 minutes at a time, since it can make your skin extremely cold, leading to stiffness in the joints. Always place a cloth or a towel between your skin and the cold source, to prevent irritation or skin damage. Do not place ice packs over skin, which is affected by bruises, open wound, sores, cuts and abrasions. Cold can enhance the constriction of blood vessels and hence, one should also avoid placing an ice pack on areas with reduced blood circulation.
As per the Arthritis Foundation, blisters, hives, blotchy red skin and skin with a purplish tint are all signs of using ice treatment for a prolonged period of time. Hence, after you remove the cold pack, always examine your skin for these signs and if you find any, try to move the joints to and fro, to avoid stiffness from setting in.
In conclusion, the symptoms associated with arthritis can respond differently to ice treatment, depending on the type of arthritis you are suffering from. Hence, you should always consult your doctor, before using ice as a therapy for treating arthritis.