Paraffin Wax for Arthritis

Overview

You can use paraffin wax (which 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 wax especially helps to reduce pain and loosen up your hand and finger joints before exercise.

You will need:

  • 4 lb (1.8 kg) of paraffin wax. Paraffin is available in most places where canning supplies are sold.
  • 1 cup (237 mL) 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 slow cooker or double boiler. If you use a slow cooker, 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 slow cooker 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.

Not everyone should use paraffin wax:

  • 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.
  • Paraffin can catch fire if it's heated too much. Follow the instructions here or the advice of your doctor.

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

  1. Melt the wax, and add the mineral oil.

    Use low heat if you use a double boiler. Stir often to speed up the melting. Add the mineral oil when the wax is melted.

  2. Turn off the heat, wait for a thin film to form on top, and check the wax temperature.

    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. When a film has formed, check the temperature. The thermometer should read about 125 °F (51.7 °C) when you begin your treatment.

  3. Wash and dry the hand or foot you are going to treat.

    Use warm, soapy water. This will keep the paraffin clean so you can use it again for future treatment. Be sure you dry your hand or foot completely.

  4. Put the wax on your hand or foot.

    Relax your hand or foot and dip it into the wax. Be 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 wax.

  5. Take your hand or foot out of the wax.

    As you remove your hand or foot, hold it over the wax. Allow it to dry a few seconds until it stops dripping.

  6. Repeat this process of dipping your hand or foot 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.

  7. Wrap your hand or foot.
    • Wrap your hand or foot in plastic wrap or slide it into a plastic bag.
    • Then wrap a towel around your hand or foot and hold it in place with rubber bands or tape.
  8. Leave the wax on for 20 minutes.
  9. Take off the wax.

    Unwrap your hand or foot and slide the paraffin on your hand or foot back into the pot. The wax can be melted and used again.

Related Information

Credits

Current as of: March 9, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Joan Rigg PT, OCS - Physical Therapy

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