Suffering from arthritis or know someone who is? Cold plunging/ice bathing and sauna use may be tools to help!
First of all, what is arthritis?
Arthritis is a collection of conditions that cause swelling of joints and other tissues. There are several different types of arthritis that all can restrict mobility and cause acute pain.
Consequently, these conditions can lead to depression and reduce quality of life in many. Common treatments for arthritis include anti-inflammatory drugs. Arthritis patients are also encouraged to take self-management classes, exercise in ways that are easy on the joints, maintain a healthy weight, and avoid smoking, alcohol, and large amounts of red meat. How does cold water help arthritis?
Since ice is known to reduce blood flow and inflammation, researchers have been curious about the potential affects of cold water therapy on arthritis symptoms. Based on current research and plenty of anecdotal evidence, using cold therapy seems to help reduce arthritis pain, swelling, and inflammation. The cold is especially useful during a flare where joints heat up and swell.
Research shows cold plunging may treat arthritis
One recent study’s findings indicate cold water therapy can decrease pain, stress, anxiety, and depression associated with Gout arthritis, as well as increase joint mobility, physical activity, and quality of life.
Gout is a metabolic disorder that forms and deposits monosodium urate crystals in joints and their surrounding soft tissues, caused by having an excess of uric acid in the blood. Gout inflammation often leads to chronic long-term pain and joint rigidity. Currently, intermittent drug use for pain relief can cause serious kidney problems in gout patients. So researchers were interested to explore other avenues for gout pain management such as non-medicinal interventions.
In the study, researchers gathered 76 individuals in Indonesia who regularly received treatment for gout at community health centers. They split the group into about half – 40 participants constituted the control group who simply continued treatment as normal, and 36 became the cold water immersion (CWI) group. The CWI group continued their treatment as well, but also immersed their entire inflamed target joint in 20–30°C water for 20 minutes a day for 4 weeks.
The researchers measured participants’ levels of perceived pain, stress, anxiety, and depression, joint mobility, physical activity, and quality of life at three points: before the experiment and at the end of the second and fourth weeks. Those in the CWI group had lower levels of pain, stress, anxiety, and depression, and more joint mobility and physical activity than the control group. What’s more, CWI improved quality of life by alleviating pain in the patients.
Another study found an individualized Intermittent Exercise Program followed by cold-water immersion was a feasible method toward recovery for patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Cold water therapy may be an affective and non-invasive treatment option for those struggling with arthritis.
Cold therapy methods
Ice bath – immerse yourself in a cold plunge or ice bath for a few minutes (you don’t need to push it) to reduce swelling. Ice baths can be really effective during a flare up.
Cold shower – adjust your shower head for a gentle, low-pressure sprinkling of cold water.
Ice pack – place an ice pack on the inflamed area or joint.
Ice massage – use a cube of ice to massage the swollen or painful area.
Sauna and arthritis
Heat therapy is especially useful for tired or achy joints, as opposed to hot and swollen joints. Since heat expands blood vessels and promotes blood flow, more oxygen, blood, and nutrients can contact the injured tissues. Better circulation relaxes stiff joints.
Heat therapy methods
Sauna – get into a dry sauna, pour water on the rocks, and let the steam embrace you. Be sure to listen to your heart rate and other internal signals.
Heated pool – gently ease in to a warm-water swim.
Warm bath or shower – spend up to 20 minutes in the water to relax your joints and muscles.
Electric heating pad – purchase an electric heating pad and use it to warm your stiff joints before movement or exercise.
At PLUNJ, we offer a cozy sauna and an ice bath to take the stress and effort out of heat and cold therapy. Come give us a try and let us know what you think!
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023 July 14). Types of Arthritis. CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/types/index.html
Chef Laura. (2022, April 9). COLD WATER THERAPY FOR RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS: PART 2. Love, Chef Laura. https://lovecheflaura.com/cold-water-therapy-for-rheumatoid-arthritis-part-2/#water-therapy-for-rheumatoid-arthritis
Kurniasari, M. D., Monsen, K. A., Weng, S. F., Yang, C. Y., & Tsai, H. T. (2022). Cold Water Immersion Directly and Mediated by Alleviated Pain to Promote Quality of Life in Indonesian with Gout Arthritis: A Community-based Randomized Controlled Trial. Biological Research for Nursing, 24(2), 245–258. https://doi-org.ezproxy.uvu.edu/10.1177/10998004211063547
Mihalic, Anthony. (2022 April 14). Cold Therapy as Arthritis Treatment: What to Know. Orthobracing. https://orthobracing.com/blogs/resources/cold-therapy-as-arthritis-treatment-what-to-know
Peres, D., Prati, C., Mourot, L., Demartino, A. M., Sagawa, Y., Jr, & Tordi, N. (2023). Effects of an Exercise Program and Cold-Water Immersion Recovery in Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA): Feasibility Study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 20(12). https://doi-org.ezproxy.uvu.edu/10.3390/ijerph20126128
Sayre, Carolyn. (2023). Heat Therapy Helps Relax Stiff Joints. Arthritis Foundation. https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/healthy-living/managing-pain/pain-relief-solutions/heat-therapy-helps-relax-stiff-joints