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

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD – Internal Medicine
Martin J. Gabica, MD – Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Joan Rigg, PT, OCS – Physical Therapy

Current as ofOctober 10, 2017