Whether it is a good idea to apply either heat or cold, and which one would work best, is difficult to predict in any individual patient. For swelling and pain that follows an injury, a cold application is suggested for the first 12 to 24 hours. For the most common forms of chronic arthritis, such as osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, heat or cold may help. Most physicians recommend trying one at a time and continuing with whichever seems helpful. Taking showers or soaking in a warm bath can ease pain, as can applying dry heat with a heating pad, for example, to a painful area for about 15 minutes. Applying cold — an ice pack or ice wrapped in a towel — for 15 minutes can help reduce swelling and pain. However, if your circulation is poor, avoid using cold packs, because applying cold can make circulation problems worse and, in some instances, damage the skin tissue. Similarly, avoid excessive heat, which may burn the skin, especially if sensation over the skin is not normal.