There are many types of ice packs that can be used to reduce inflammation, swelling, and pain from arthritis. People can select which works best for them based on personal preference, budget, and convenience.

Common types of cold packs that are effective for arthritis pain include:

Reusable cold pack

Many types of reusable cold packs (such as those filled with gel) can be kept in the freezer ready for use when needed, and re-frozen after each use. These cold packs are available at drug stores and general merchandise stores.

Homemade cold packs

People with arthritis pain can make cold packs with items they already have at home:

  • Plastic baggie and ice. Put the desired amount of ice in a sealable plastic bag (baggie) and squeeze the air out of the bag before sealing it. Some people like to add a little water to the ice so that the bag is not so lumpy. The bag should be wrapped in a towel before applying it to the painful area to protect the skin from ice burn.
  • A frozen towel. To make a towel into a cold pack, place a folded, damp towel in a plastic bag and put it in the freezer for ten to twenty minutes. Then take the towel out of the bag and place it on the affected area.
  • Sponge. Wet a sponge, wring it out partially, place it in a plastic baggie, and put in the freezer. After it is frozen, to sponge can be kept in the baggie and applied to the sore joint. A cloth can be wrapped around the baggie to protect the skin, if necessary.
  • Rice. Create a reusable cold pack by filling a sock with rice and placing it in the freezer. Rice will get as cold as ice but does not melt when used.
  • Gel-type pack. Fill a sealable plastic bag with liquid dishwasher detergent and freeze it, which gives it a consistency of a gel pack.
  • Frozen bag of peas. If cold therapy is needed quickly, it is easy to grab a bag of frozen peas or other vegetables out of the freezer, wrap it in a towel and apply it to the painful area.

Instant ice packs (disposable ice packs)

These packs can be “cracked” (typically by hand), spurring a chemical reaction that causes the pack to become cold in a matter of seconds. They stay cold for an extended period of time while being used at room temperature.

People who treat chronic arthritis pain with cold therapy are advised to use homemade or reusable ice packs when possible, because the single-use, instant ice packs tend to be expensive and less environmentally friendly. However, single-use cold packs can offer convenience when a freezer or other cold source is not accessible.


To relieve arthritis-related pain, some people alternate between heat and cold therapy throughout the day.

Dr. Brandon Kambach is an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in adult and pediatric spine surgery. He practices in Jacksonville, FL. Dr. Kambach has several years of experience evaluating and treating conditions of the spine and joints, and he has participated in clinical research studies for cervical spine disorders.