Who started this paraffin dip thing? The practice started back in the Roman Empire. Romans poured hot waxes on the body before massage therapy. The French also used paraffin to accelerate wound healing by melting the wax and spreading it on wounds. And the British used paraffin wax therapy to treat orthopedic disorders in World War 1 military hospitals.
And here is a more recent definition (more about remelting paraffin in a moment):
Paraffin dip: A treatment for the symptoms of joint and muscle conditions, such as arthritis, that consists of melted mineral wax derived from petroleum applied to a body area. Paraffin dips can be especially helpful in relieving the pain and stiffness of arthritis involving the small joints of the hands when used as a small bath. The hands are repeatedly dipped into the melted, warm wax and the wax allowed to cool and harden around the sore joints. The paraffin is then removed by peeling off and can be remelted in the bath for repeated use.
So what are the practical tips you should know?
First, be sure to consult with your physician if you have questions about the appropriateness of heat therapy treatments.
Now, why would you get a paraffin dip? Whether you do this at home or with a trained spa professional, a paraffin dip is most often used for hands or feet. It will soothe and moisturize your skin, open pores, increase circulation, and offer a chance to slow down during your busy life.
But more importantly for RA and osteoarthritis, paraffin therapy can reduce pain and stiffness around joints by helping remove excess fluid from surrounding tissue. Paraffin is heavy in molecular weight, so it can increase the blood supply to the area being treated which can also be beneficial to joints and soft tissue.
Paraffin treatments are not recommended for people with the following conditions:
- Varicose Veins
Especially when you are immuno-suppressed, it is best to throw paraffin away after each use. Do not use paraffin baths at a salon or spa unless you verify that they are not re-using paraffin. A common bath would be a breeding ground for fungus and bacteria. With each dip, small amounts of dead skin slough off into the tub, making the wax dirty and unsafe. More salons and spas are offering single-use paraffin products, which give you an extra opportunity for safety. (See these sites for more info & another take on hygiene)
What if you decide to invest in a home-use paraffin dip? What else do you need to know?
- Be sure to remove all jewelry prior to treatment.
- Thoroughly wash and dry the area that is to be treated.
- Use hand lotion without mineral oil, which can create additional dryness after initially feeling moist.
- Try the medium temperature first, in case the hot is uncomfortable.
- Be sure not to touch metal sides or bottom of the paraffin bath. Use a plastic shield for the bottom if it comes with your equipment.
- When conducting a paraffin dip, relax the body part to be treated and immerse it gradually in to the warm paraffin wax.
- While dipping the area into the paraffin therapy bath, layers of paraffin wax will build up. You will want up to five layers of paraffin for maximum warmth to penetrate.
- Allow it to cool & harden without standing on your feet or using your hands. You can put the hand or foot in a plastic bag and then a specially designed mitt to prolong the warmth and keep from getting paraffin everywhere.
- If you are doing this without help, you may have to treat one hand at a time.
- Once the treatment is complete, the wax is peeled off (can be done right inside the bag with a little practice). Toss the bag with used paraffin in the trash.
Some paraffin has lavender or other scents. Or you can find unscented paraffin at Massage Warehouse. This is the brand I use, and it has always worked well for my clients.
It is also possible to paraffin dip your elbows, but you will need to enlist someone to wrap them lightly with plastic wrap.
Here’s a video with some info aimed at spa professionals and massage therapists that is still applicable when you do your own.
Great site from @Farfbaz (thanks Steph!) http://www.therabathpro.com//treatments/general_tips.php
And just so you know, the only thing that qualifies me to discuss this would be my seven years of experience as a nationally certified massage therapist who also offers paraffin dips to her clients. Always use your best judgement, and follow qualified medical advice first.