As the parent of a child with juvenile arthritis, you already know many methods of easing your child’s pain. You probably find yourself reaching into your medicine cabinet to make life easier for your little one, but have you ever considered hitting the kitchen cabinet instead?
Doreen T. Stiskal, PT, PhD, chair of the Department of Physical Therapy at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J., says relieving your child’s pain can sometimes be as simple as hot and cold. “Thermal agents have many benefits,” she explains. “They relieve pain, improve circulation and reduce stiffness.”
The Heat is On
Heat therapy is most successful when used on children prior to activity to warm up the joints, ease stiffness and increase circulation. When your child’s joints are stiff, apply heat as soon as she gets up in the morning to loosen joints and make daily activities less painful. Wake your child up a few minutes early so that she can take her time and use heat to relax tight muscles and joints, as well as stimulate blood flow and increase range of motion.
While heat has its benefits, Stiskal doesn't recommend heat for joints that are noticeably hot and swollen because it can worsen discomfort. “Use heat with caution on inflamed joints,” she warns.
One benefit of heat therapy is that it can be applied easily and inexpensively using items in your own kitchen. For example, you can create moist heat, which penetrates more deeply than dry heat, simply by soaking towels in hot water or warming damp towels in a microwave. Moist heat packs that provide longer lasting relief are available for purchase at drug and discount stores. Always test the heat before applying to skin to avoid burns.
Many children enjoy warm baths and find that they are especially effective in easing pain. The bonus? You can relieve pain and and get bath time over with all in one simple step.
Make your own dry heat packs at home by placing dry rice or beans into a sock. Tie off the open end of the sock and place it in the microwave for 30 seconds. Remove the sock from the microwave, shake it to balance the heat then microwave it for 30 seconds. Always place a towel between the heat source and your child’s skin.
Cold therapy is best used at the onset of your child’s flare to reduce swelling and numb the joints. It's also useful after a period of activity. Cold numbs the sore area and reduces inflammation and swelling by constricting blood vessels.