Heat can be a terrific way to ease the joint pain that comes with arthritis. Consider these options for applying heat:
Electric heating pad, such as the Softheat Plus.
How it works: Plug one in, wrap in cloth, apply for 20 minutes.
Best for: “They’re one of the best ways to heat a large body part – a hip, back, shoulder, knee – especially before activities like stretching,” says Doreen M. Stiskal, PhD, department of physical therapy chair at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J.
Pros: Easy to use and store; heats up quickly.
Cons: It’s easy to burn yourself, says John Reveille, MD, director of the division of rheumatology and clinical immunogenetics at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. Start on low for 20 minutes.
Capsaicin creams or gels, such as Zostrix, contain the chemical that makes cayenne pepper hot.
How they work: “The chemical works by initially irritating the sensory nerve endings in the skin,” says Stiskal. “The body then responds by reducing pain signals throughout the nervous system.”
Best for: Temporary relief of chronic muscle and joint pain.
Pros: They’re over-the-counter, fairly inexpensive and won’t stain clothing.
Cons: Capsaicin might irritate sensitive skin.
Air-activated heat pack, such as ThermaCare HeatWraps.
How it works: The chemicals – iron powder, vermiculite, cellulose, charcoal, salt – mix with air, producing heat for about eight hours.
Best for: Soothing joints or muscles.
Pros: Easily portable for relief anywhere.
Cons: Single-use product.
Microwaveable pad, such as the ThermalOn microwave-activated moist heat pads, which carry the Arthritis Foundation Ease of Use Commendation.)
How it works: Pop in the microwave.
Best for: Aches that don’t require heat for a full 20 minutes.
Pros: Versatile and reusable.
Cons: Easy to overheat; as it cools down, heat may be inconsistent.
Paraffin bath, such as HoMedics ParaSpa Plus Paraffin Bath.
How it works: Plug in to melt paraffin. Dip your hand or foot several times to coat with wax, wrap in a plastic bag to retain heat for about 20 minutes, then peel off wax.
Best for: Sore hands or feet.
Pros: Heat surrounds fingers or toes.
Cons: Can take at least a half-hour to melt paraffin, which can get very hot. Test with a finger before immersing.