“Is heat good for knee pain?” is undeniably one of the most common questions I hear in my physical therapy practice. And to that, I usually answer: it depends!
See, heat therapy can indeed be good for knee pain relief. It stimulates your blood circulation, decreases joint stiffness, and is versatile to use.
But there are also situations when you should use cold therapy rather than heat. We’ll discuss all about that below. Here are the topics covered, tap on any of them to go to its section:
5 Reasons why heat is good for knee joint pain
1) Decrease pain
Our body contains nerves that specifically transmit pain signals to your brain. The more they’re stimulated, the longer you are in pain.
But, heat therapy can stimulate other nerves to override these pain-emitting signals, thus reducing pain. (1) So instead of an unpleasant feeling, you’ll often feel a warm, relaxing sensation over your knee.
2) Promotes blood flow
Being in pain can be a warning sign of an injury. Fortunately, heat helps promote healing by increasing the supply of oxygen and nutrients to your injured area. (2)
This is because heat can increase the diameter of your blood vessels. This gives your blood more space to circulate better and transport nutrients, thus improving your recovery.
3) Improves knee mobility
Sometimes pain and stiffness could result from tight muscles around your knee. Warming these areas with heat therapy could improve their flexibility and make it easier for you to move around. (1)
4) Applicable in many ways
An electric heating pad and gel packs are some common examples you can use at home. They often come in different shapes and sizes depending on what you need.
If you’re a little tight on the budget, going for a warm shower or simply a hot water bottle right on your knee could suffice.
5) Provides joint pain relief in many situations
Here are different scenarios you can use heat therapy to get through your day:
- Early morning to ease knee arthritis symptoms of pain and stiffness.
- Before any workout to help warm up your knee.
- A few hours before bedtime to avoid flare-ups of pain.
How can I safely apply heat therapy at home?
30 minutes of heat application should be enough to ease joint pain. (2) You can do this 2 to 4 times a day until you feel better. Some options you can use at home are:
- Gel packs or hot water bottles. Just make sure to wrap them with a towel before placing them directly on your skin.
- Electric heating pad. Adjust its temperature to where it feels warm and relaxing, it shouldn’t be painful or blistering hot to touch.
- Hot tub baths. If you have delicate skin or are prone to dizziness, set a timer to 30 minutes.
Pro-tip: Check your knee every few minutes during your heat therapy. A pinkish skin appearance is normal but red blotches are not. At this rate, you should discontinue your session.
When is ice better for knee pain?
If you are in any of these scenarios, use ice instead:
1) After an acute injury
Pain and swelling are usually present after a recent knee injury. If you use heat, you might exacerbate the inflammatory process by promoting blood flow to your knee.
2) After a workout
Your knees could get sore from inflammation after a good hard workout.
So using ice instead of heat could help slow the inflammatory process, holding off pain and swelling, which could potentially make you recover faster.
3) Certain inflammatory diseases
You could do heat therapy with a chronic condition like knee osteoarthritis. But for other inflammatory conditions like gout or rheumatoid arthritis, ice may be better.
These two diseases are prone to sudden flare-ups of arthritis pain. Choosing ice instead of heat could help calm down your symptoms easily.
This can help: RICE therapy for knee inflammation.
4) People not comfortable with heat
If you tend to have an allergic reaction to heat or simply do not tolerate it well, then no need to force the issue.
Stressing over it might do more harm than good. So just ice instead since it also has a pain-relieving effect. (1)
Learn more: Ice vs heat – which one is best for knee pain?
Is heat good for a hurting knee?
Yes, heat is good for a hurting knee. It’s a handy remedy to use for knee pain management.
Does heat make knee pain worse?
Heat normally doesn’t make knee pain worse. But if your joint is swollen and inflamed, then using it could worsen your symptoms. Choose ice instead.
Conclusion: Is heat good for a knee injury?
Heat therapy is a good analgesic option if you have been dealing with long-term knee pain. But for recent pain and swelling, use ice instead.
If you are still unsure between ice and heat therapy, I suggest seeking professional medical advice from your trusted doctor or physical therapist. They may recommend pain relievers or other treatment options for your case.
- Behrens, Barbara J et al. “Physical Agents: Theory and Practice.” F. A. Davis Company, Jul 11, 2005. https://books.google.com.ph/books?id=ndjaAAAAQBAJ&source=gbs_book_similarbooks
- Malanga, Gerard A et al. “Mechanisms and efficacy of heat and cold therapies for musculoskeletal injury.” Postgraduate medicine vol. 127,1 (2015): 57-65. DOI: 10.1080/00325481.2015.992719