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Arthritis: Can Heat Therapy Ease Arthritic Pain?

There are two types of arthritis, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. While osteoarthritis is usually a result of the degenerative changes due to age, and rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, both types are characterized by pain and swelling of the joints. Arthritis is most common in the knee and hip joints, but it can cause pain in any joint in the body. Treatment for the pain of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis is similar.

Prevalence of Arthritis

The prevalence of both osteo and rheumatoid arthritis is higher in women than in men and increases for both sexes with age. Statistics for 2003 showed that the prevalence for arthritis in people under 44 was about 2.5%, but increased to about 15% in people between 44 and 64. In people age 65 to 74 the prevalence of arthritis was 22.7% for women and 11.3% for men. Osteoarthritis is more common than rheumatoid arthritis.

Prevalence of Osteoarthritis Compared to Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis can affect people of any age although the onset usually occurs between age 30 and age 60. With this in mind, it is diagnosed in about one to two percent of the world's population. Osteoarthritis is more common and is seen on x-rays in over 70% of the population aged 70 and over. It is diagnosed in about 10% of the total population but is relatively rare in people under 50 years of age.

Pain Treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis

The pain of rheumatoid arthritis may be treated with heat therapy or heat and cold therapy. Cold therapy helps to reduce inflammation and may provide some relief from pain although it is initially uncomfortable. Heat therapy increases blood flow and oxygen levels in the affected area and relaxes muscles reducing pain.  Since rheumatoid arthritis is an auto immune disease it does require medical supervision and treatment to impede the progress of the disease.

Pain Treatment for Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease associated with aging. In the majority of cases it is well managed by self treatment with heat therapy or heat and cold therapy. Finding the best treatment is often a matter of trial and error. Microwave heat pads and wheat bags can provide heat therapy to affected joints and may ease pain. However, moderate exercise is also recommended following heat treatments to increase mobility and flexibility.

Cold and Heat Therapy

Where inflammation is present, a combination of cold and heat therapy is recommended since heat therapy alone can increase inflammation. Cold packs are placed on the affected joint for 10 to 15 minutes. After the cold pack is removed, a heat pad or microwave wheat bag is placed on the joint for 10 to 15 minutes. Following heat therapy, moderate exercise of the joint is recommended to increase mobility.

The majority of people will suffer from osteoarthritis during their lifetime. Heat therapy can provide an inexpensive and readily accessible treatment for pain and can easily be applied using wheat bags and heat pads. For severe pain, alternative therapies like massage and acupuncture may provide relief or doctors may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications.