A quick fix to manage joint pain flares: Quick first-aid measures to avoid worsening your pain

When that muscle pain is unbearable, it is good to know what to reach out for first! Don’t delay dealing with your pain.

Cold versus Heat

The choice between hot and cold packs is a common confusion that people face when thinking about pain relief.

When to choose cold packs? You can use a cold pack in case of sprains (swollen and painful ankles, wrists, knees), pain resulting from an arthritis flare (swelling of one or more joints in the body), sore muscles or in general, when suffering from acute pain (sudden, sharp pain). The cold pack works by decreasing the swelling of the affected area, by reducing the blood flow to that area. The cold temperature has a numbing effect and helps reduce pain.

Cold packs that you can use

  • Commercial cold packs
  • Ice or cold water filled in a bottle or in a zipped plastic bag
  • A towel or cloth dipped in cold water and ice

When is heat application useful? Use heat packs in case of chronic (persistent or recurrent) muscle pain. Heat works by improving oxygen and blood flow, thereby relaxing the muscles and reducing stiffness and pain.

You can apply heat using

  • Commercial heating pads
  • Hot water bottles
  • Hot water shower or bath
  • Applying a cloth or towel dipped in warm water

General precautions while using hot or cold packs – Take breaks from using hot packs or cold packs if you feel uncomfortable. Avoid using heat or cold for more than 15-20 minutes at a on one area of the body. Preferably, use a cloth to wrap the cold pack or heat pack to prevent direct contact with the skin. It is best not to use hot or cold packs if there are cuts or sores on the skin. Test the temperature before use. Do not use creams or lotions while using hot or cold packs.

Easy application pain relief

Topical (applied directly to the skin) pain relieving medications can also be used in case of painful joints and muscles. They usually come in the form of creams, rubs, gels, patches and sprays and help relieve pain. Some of them contain ‘oil of wintergreen’ or salicylates as the key pain relieving ingredient. These are best used for joints such as knees and elbows that are close to the skin. Other preparations may contain counterirritants (such as menthol or camphor) that produce a cooling or burning sensation to divert your attention away from pain, or capsaicin that creates a warm tingling sensation. Turpentine oil (tarpin ka tel) may help relieve pain by creating a warm sensation when applied to the affected area.

These pain relievers should be used in moderation. Consult a doctor if the pain persists. Check if you are allergic to any of the ingredients before use. Do not apply these pain relievers to skin with wounds or cuts. It is best to wash your hands after application of these creams, rubs or sprays. Avoid any contact with sensitive areas such as the eyes.

Bandage support

Bandaging an injured joint or muscle will help reduce swelling. A stretchy elastic bandage compresses and supports the injured body part. The bandaged body part should feel snug but not too tight. A tight bandage will reduce the flow of blood to that body area. It is best to remove the bandage before going to sleep. Bandages should be preferably removed after 48 hours of the injury. However, bandages may be used until the pain and swelling have subsided.