Paraffin Bath

A form of heat therapy used to treat joint and muscle pain from arthritis. Special tubs are used to warm paraffin wax to temperatures on the order of 120–135 degrees Fahrenheit. The user dips the painful foot, hand, or elbow into the bath multiple times to coat it with the wax, then removes it from the bath. The hot paraffin continues to provide deep, penetrating heat to the affected limb. Some bath kits come with a special mitt and boot to cover the hand and foot and prolong the heating effect. Paraffin bath kits are available at drug stores and through companies that specialize in physical therapy and wellness products.

How beneficial are heat therapy techniques? There have been few well-designed studies of heat therapy for arthritis, and what studies there are have shown that heat therapy does not reduce joint swelling. Rather, it seems to be effective for reducing pain and stiffness and increasing circulation in the short term. Research has shown that paraffin baths used along with hand exercises can provide short-term pain relief for people with rheumatoid arthritis in their hands. There is no evidence of any harmful effects in most people, though heat therapy isn’t a good idea for people with impaired sensation or circulation in their extremities, since these people may not notice if the heat source is too hot and may be burned without realizing it.

Robert S. Dinsmoor is a medical writer and editor based in Massachusetts.

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