Paraffin wax baths are suitable for people with arthritis in the hands or feet. Heat dilates blood vessels, improving circulation and helping ease pain and stiffness.
Arthritis is a term encompassing many conditions that involve pain and swelling in the joints. Doctors sometimes recommend paraffin wax baths for people with arthritis in their hands or feet to help reduce stiffness and ease pain.
This article explains paraffin wax baths and how they can help people with arthritis. It also gives step-by-step instructions for having a paraffin wax bath and the equipment a person will need.
A paraffin wax bath involves completely covering the hands or feet with molten paraffin wax. The warm, melted wax helps relax muscles, reduce joint stiffness, and ease pain.
Paraffin wax is a hydrocarbon made solely from carbon and hydrogen elements. It is a byproduct of the petroleum industry.
Paraffin wax melts at a relatively low temperature and does not burn the skin if a person uses it correctly. The optimum temperature for a paraffin bath is 125°F (51.7°C).
There is no cure for arthritis, but people can manage their symptoms with various treatments. The Arthritis Foundation recommends heat therapy to help relax stiff joints, and using a paraffin wax bath is one type of heat therapy.
Heat encourages the blood vessels to dilate, bringing more blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the affected joints. With better circulation, stiff muscles relax, which eases joint pain.
The American Society for Surgery of the Hand (ASSH) explains that dipping the hand into warm wax and then wrapping it in a towel creates a deep, moist heat. The person’s hand relaxes as the blood supply improves, and it can bring relief to arthritic joints.
ASSH recommends that people build up layers of wax, allowing the wax to dry, before resubmerging the hand in the paraffin wax bath.
When the hand is fully covered, the person wraps it in a plastic film or puts it in a plastic bag and wraps a towel around it. The person then relaxes for about 15 minutes, allowing the heat to penetrate the muscles.
Many manufacturers sell special paraffin wax baths with different designs and features. They are usually temperature controlled and stop heating once they reach the desired temperature. Many are budget friendly and are often available at drugstores.
Alternatively, people can heat the wax in a double boiler or slow cooker. However, if the wax gets too hot, it can burn the skin, so people need to check the temperature with a thermometer before putting it on their skin.
Do not heat paraffin wax in a microwave as it may catch fire.
People will need the following equipment for a paraffin wax bath:
- a specially designed bath, double boiler, or slow cooker
- paraffin wax
- a thermometer
- plastic wrap or plastic bags
- elastic bands
- small towels
A step-by-step guide to a paraffin wax hand bath
The ASSH recommends the following steps for having a paraffin wax bath.
- Melt the wax, and check that the temperature is no higher than 125°F (51.7°C).
- Thoroughly wash the hands with soap and water, and then dry them.
- Apply hand lotion, as this helps remove the wax after treatment.
- Spread the fingers on the hand, then dip the whole hand into the wax, fingertips first.
- Remove the hand and allow the wax to set.
- Repeat steps four and five another eight times to build up a deep layer of wax.
- After the last dip, wrap the hand in plastic wrap, or secure a plastic bag over it with an elastic band. Wrap this in a small towel, and relax for about 15 minutes.
- Remove the towel and plastic covering. Peel the wax away from the hand. Return the wax to the reservoir for reuse.
Paraffin wax baths are a noninvasive therapy, but they are not suitable for everyone.
Hot wax can aggravate open cuts or sores, so people with wounds need to delay wax therapy until they fully heal.
The Arthritis Foundation also cautions against heat therapy if a person has an acute injury, soreness, or swelling. They recommend using cold therapies in these cases.
The biggest danger with paraffin wax baths is using wax that is too hot, which burns the skin. People can avoid this by checking the temperature with a thermometer and testing the wax with one finger before submerging the hand or foot.
Some people may develop a heat rash or swelling after the treatment, but this is usually short-lived.
Although there is no cure for arthritis, many people can manage their symptoms with home therapies, including paraffin wax baths.
People who find paraffin wax baths beneficial can repeat the treatments multiple times a day, if necessary.
Some people with arthritis find paraffin wax baths help soothe their swollen joints. Although the effects are temporary, a person can reuse the wax multiple times.
Heat helps to dilate the blood vessels, improving blood circulation. This can ease stiffness and joint pain.
People can submerge a hand or foot into molten paraffin wax before wrapping it to retain the heat.
Anyone with diabetes, poor circulation, or open cuts or wounds should avoid using a paraffin wax bath.