According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 4 Americans is affected by joint pain.
Out of that 25 percent, 15 million individuals suffer from severe arthritis. Moreover, half of the adults diagnosed with arthritis experience persistent pain at all times.
As you can see, these numbers are terrifying, and the incidence is only increasing! For this reason, researchers and physicians are always on the look for new potential treatments that could help with joint pain. Preferably, these treatments should not be pharmacological in nature because of the high risk of adverse effects.
In this article, we will discuss two non-pharmacological treatment options; thermotherapy (heat therapy) and cryotherapy (cold therapy).
Thermotherapy (heat therapy)
Heat therapy, which is formally known as thermotherapy, is a technique that involves using heat to treat acute or chronic pain. The source of heat could be anything from a hot water bottle to ultrasound and heating pads.
Regardless of the heat source, once it’s applied, the blood vessels will vasodilate (expand in diameter), which improves the blood supply to the muscles, joints, and other structures.
As a result, substances that induce pain, such as prostaglandins, will get circulated into the bloodstream, reducing your pain.
Additionally, heat therapy promotes muscle relaxation and reduces joint stiffness.
Cryotherapy (cold therapy)
Cold therapy, or cryotherapy, is the opposite of heat therapy; it involves using cold to treat pain. Unlike thermotherapy, which accelerates the process of inflammation by expanding blood vessels, cryotherapy will slow everything down.
This will subsequently lead to the reduction of pain-inducing chemicals and decreased swelling.
Cold packs and ice massages could be used in cryotherapy; however, you should be careful not to apply the cold source directly to the skin, as it could damage it. Instead, separate the ice back from your skin using a thin towel.
Which one is better for joint pain?
Many studies support the efficacy of both cold and heat therapies in the treatment of pain symptoms; however, which treatment is more efficient than the other?
One should expect the answer to this question to be straightforward. Unfortunately, it is not that simple.
Several studies analyzed the effects of thermotherapy and cryotherapy in relieving signs and symptoms of pain, swelling, and stiffness.
Each of these studies comes up with a different conclusion to which degree these treatments help with the previously mentioned symptoms; furthermore, the efficacy of the treatment varies greatly, depending on the cause of your pain. For instance, pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis may respond differently to cryotherapy compared to the pain caused by osteoarthritis.
In short, both treatments are quite helpful in reducing symptoms and carry few to no side effects. The final choice of treatment should be personalized by your physician.
Joint pain is quite a hassle to deal with; it could be severe and, in most cases, recurrent. It may also decrease the normal functioning of an individual. Using heat or cold therapy to treat this condition could be very efficient and economic.
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Dr. Kevin Crawford