You probably know that applying heat or ice to a painful joint can help relieve pain, but have questions about these simple techniques. Which one? Why? How often? How long?
The only time you must choose "ice" is during the first 48 hours after a sudden injury or surgery. Cooling the area causes the nearby blood vessels to constrict; there is less swelling, so there is less pain. Heat opens up the area's blood vessels, improving the flow. Increased circulation brings oxygen and healing elements to the scene, while flushing away wastes: in with the good, out with the bad.
Use your ice/heat pack as often as you'd like; at least three times a day. Heat before activity warms up the joints, and ice afterward cools the inflammation from the friction in arthritic joints. Most packs can be frozen or heated; buy two. Keep one in the freezer, pop one in the microwave when you need it.
When trying to find relief from your daily arthritis pain, you can't go wrong by experimenting here! Choose a large ice/heat pack that is pliable enough to cover and conform to your painful joint. Try it for 20 minutes (check your skin every 5 minutes!) If you feel better, then you've made the right choice! If not, try the other.
Take notes on what works. Make good use of low-tech, low-cost, low-risk, common-sense health habits that pay off in many ways!