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Heat Therapy for Joint Pain

By Debra Rodzinak

For those who suffer from arthritis joint pain, heat therapy can help relieve stiffness and pain.  Knowing when and how to apply heat therapy can bring natural pain relief to arthritis sufferers without the use of drugs or surgery.  By encouraging healing of tissues and decreasing stiffness of arthritic joints, heat therapy has been proven to be an inexpensive, easy, and effective form of natural therapy.

Heat Therapy Benefits

The benefits of heat therapy are widely accepted as a natural form of pain relief.  Some benefits of heat therapy include:

  • Encouragement of healing to damaged tissue
  • Decreased joint stiffness
  • Stimulation of joint fluid
  • Stimulation of sensory receptors

Heat causes blood vessels in the muscles to dilate which, in turn, increases the vital flow of nutrients and oxygen to the muscle tissue.  Warmth also allows the muscles and connective tissues to become pliable and flexible, which makes the joints more pliable and decreases stiffness.  By warming the joint fluid, then bending the joint, additional joint fluid is produced, which lubricates the joints.  Warming can also be comforting and allow the sensory receptors to calm down, and the pain signals to the brain are decreased.


Combining heat therapy with exercise can help relieve much of the pain associated with stiffness due to arthritis.  However, the heat should not be too hot to avoid burning the skin.  To be effective, the heat must be applied long enough to penetrate the affected joints and muscle tissue.  If only applied for a short amount of time, the skin will warm up, but the muscle will not.  For joints not covered by thick muscle tissues, such as the ankles, fingers, or elbows, therapy time required is about 15 to 20 minutes.  If the joint is deep, as in the hip or lower back, the session should be extended to 30 minutes or longer to bring beneficial relief.

When Not to Use Heat Therapy

Under particular circumstances, heat therapy should not be used.  Some of these instances include:

  • Swollen or bruised areas
  • Diabetes
  • Areas that have an open wound
  • Dermatitis
  • Those diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis
  • Those who suffer from heart disease or hypertension

Heat can be either wet or dry.  A heating pad, warm compress, or heated strips can be used effectively. 

To learn more about your health and wellness, see your local chiropractor at The Joint Chiropractic.

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