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Paraffin Wax for Arthritis

Topic Overview

You can use paraffin wax (may be called either paraffin or wax) to apply moist heat to your hands or feet to ease the pain and stiffness of osteoarthritis. Paraffin especially helps to reduce pain and loosen up your hand and finger joints before exercise.

You should talk with your doctor before trying paraffin at home. And it's a good idea to have a physical therapist show you how to do it before you try it yourself.

You will need:

  • 4 lb (1.8 kg) of paraffin wax. Paraffin is available in most places where canning supplies are sold.
  • 1 cup of mineral oil. You may be able to find some mineral oil that has a pleasant scent such as wintergreen.
  • Equipment for melting the wax. You can use a paraffin bath, available from a medical supply store, or a Crockpot or double boiler. If you use a Crockpot, a small one works fine for your hands. You'll need a large one if you want to do your feet.
  • A candy thermometer (if you're using a Crockpot or double boiler). If you get a paraffin bath from a medical supply store, it should have a thermometer.
  • Plastic wrap or plastic bags.
  • Terry cloth towel.
  • Rubber bands or tape.

Procedures

  • Melt the wax (use low heat if you use a double boiler). Stir often to speed up the melting.
  • Stir in the mineral oil.
  • Turn off the heat, and allow the wax to cool until it has a thin film on the top. This will mean it is getting cool enough to put your hand or foot in.
  • Use the thermometer to check the temperature of the wax. It should read about 125°F (51.7°C) when you begin your treatment.
  • Before you begin, use warm, soapy water to wash the hand or foot you are going to treat. This will keep the paraffin clean so you can use it again for future treatments. Dry your hand or foot completely.
  • Relax your hand or foot, and dip it into the paraffin, being very careful not to touch the sides or bottom of the pot. Allow the wax to come to just above the wrist or ankle. If you are unsteady, it helps to have another person guide your hand or foot in and out of the paraffin.
  • Lift your hand or foot out, but hold it over the paraffin. Allow it to dry a few seconds until it stops dripping.
  • Repeat this process 10 to 12 times. Each time you dip in, stop just below the previous line of wax on your skin. This will keep warm wax from getting in under the wax that is already on your skin and will prevent burning.
  • Wrap your hand or foot in plastic wrap or slide it into a plastic bag.
  • Next, wrap a towel around your hand or foot and hold it in place with rubber bands or tape.
  • Leave the paraffin on for 20 minutes. Then unwrap your hand or foot and slide the paraffin from your hand or foot back into the pot. The wax can be melted and used again.
  • Cover the paraffin, and save it for next time.

Precautions

  • Do not use paraffin if you have poor blood circulation.
  • Do not use paraffin if you have lost feeling in your hand or foot, such as from diabetes (diabetic neuropathy).
  • Wait until you are fully healed if you have a rash or any open sores on the hand or foot you want to treat with paraffin.
  • Make sure the wax temperature is no more than 125°F (51.7°C) when you start your treatment.
  • Each time you dip your hand or foot into the paraffin, dip a little less far than the time before. That will keep warm wax from getting in under the wax that is already on your skin, which will prevent burns.
  • Paraffin can catch fire if it's heated too much. Follow the instructions above or the advice of your doctor.

Related Information

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Joan Rigg, PT, OCS - Physical Therapy
Last Revised April 8, 2013

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