Applying heat to an arthritic joint can relax muscles, encourage joint lubrication, and provide a comforting feeling that distracts from pain. Below are nine methods of applying heat to an arthritic joint.

See When and Why to Apply Heat to an Arthritic Joint

    Some of the methods described use dry heat while others use moist heat. Many people prefer the sensation of dry heat, such as heat from an electric heating pad, though dry heat may leave the skin dehydrated. Moist heat, such as hot baths, can aid in the heat’s penetration into the muscles and may provide better pain relief.

    A health care provider may recommend dry heat or moist heat or it may be up to the individual to choose a preference. It may require some experimentation to figure out which one works best.

    1. Hot water bottle. A rubber or soft plastic water bottle filled with hot water tends to stay warm for 20 to 30 minutes.
    2. Electric heating pad. The advantage to electric heating pads is that they maintain a constant level of heat.
    3. Heated wraps and gel packs. Sold at convenience stores, wraps and gel packs may be microwaved (some are heated in water) and tend to say warm for about 30 minutes.
    4. Heat patches. These disposable, adhesive applications may be worn against the skin under clothing, providing convenience and several hours of low level of heat application. Some patches contain pain-relieving ointments.
    5. Heated dry rice pillow. Made with 100% cotton cloth and filled with dry white rice (not instant rice), a small rice pillow can be microwaved for about 3 minutes and provide about 20 minutes of warmth.
    6. Hot bath, hot tub or steam sauna. These tactics use moist heat and tend to stimulate general feelings of comfort and relaxation that may help reduce pain and loosen joints. Sometimes a long, hot shower can substitute for a hot bath if a tub is not available.
    1. Dry sauna. A dry sauna can also promote relaxation and help reduce pain and loosen joints.
    2. Car seat warmer. If pain and stiffness are due to back or hip arthritis, using a car seat warmer can be an easy way to apply gentle heat to the spine and hips.
    3. Parafin wax treatment. Dipping an arthritic hand into melted paraffin wax can provide aching fingers and wrists with soothing warmth. Some people use paraffin baths found at medical supply stores while others use crockpots and a candy thermometer (melted wax should be warm, not scalding, about 125°F). This treatment can also be used to treat arthritis symptoms in the foot.

    Heat therapy is an easy and inexpensive option to provide joint pain relief. It may be used alone or in conjunction with other therapies, including (but not limited to) exercise and cold therapy.

    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.