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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:

  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • 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.

More instructions:

Great site from @Farfbaz (thanks Steph!)

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.


He finally talked me into joining him this year!

My friend Mike has been doing the Jingle Bell Run here in our town for several years. He’s a great athlete, and he and I have been teammates, colleagues and friends for a long time. Honestly, he’s the brother I didn’t have biologically. We just “get” each other!

This year, after hearing about my RA diagnosis, he “nudged” me to participate in the Jingle Bell Run. It didn’t take much nudging even though I really hate the cold. I also haven’t been able to run for over 10 years due to OA in my right knee. So we decided to walk the Jingle Bell course together!

We organized friends into a team (including my husband). But everyone ended up pooping out for one reason or another. Funny, the lady with RA shows up but everybody else wimps out. Okay, except my darling husband who had a kidney stone. He gets a free pass this year! 😉

Last week the weather forecast was … rain, rain, rain. Sunday arrived and the forecast was still rain all day. Did I mention that I really truly hate the rain? Know it was going to be cold, I had headed to the outdoor gear store and purchased some “base layers.” (When did they stop calling it long underwear?) But rain?

Thank goodness for the golf rain pants that I borrowed from my husband, who is 5 inches taller and 50 pounds heavier. Rolled up and rolled down, the pants did the trick. Although I felt like Ms. Michelin for sure!

On the other hand, I had so much water in my shoes and socks by mile 2.5 that we decided I was “gellin'” like they say on that commercial. Next time – better winter shoes!

But, in the big scheme of things, I am so grateful for Mike’s support. The best part was seeing all of the folks who had contributed or raised money for the Arthritis Foundation. Huge crowd of runners/walkers despite the weather! And darn, it was a fun way to spend a few hours.

Oh and by the way, my biggest side effect was the need for lots of sleep afterwards. Big nap within a few hours and long hours of sleep that night. Not bad … I think I’d do this again.

I am now thankful everyday for everything that I can do. I have clients, friends, and family members who hurt a lot more than I do. But every once in a while I just wish I could still do what I used to do — without pain and/or debilitating fatigue.

Here’s a little history (not that you asked!) … When I was in my 20’s I realized that I got depressed. I took medication and got counseling – both helped.

When I was in my 30’s I discovered that writing myself a “prescription” for exercise was a great anti-depression boost with no side effects. I have used exercise in combination with as-needed counseling ever since. And this strategy seems to hold my depressive tendencies at bay.

Since I started to experience RA symptoms, it has become harder to follow my “normal” exercise routine. At first I just pooped out and said, “oh well I’m just too tired for anything extra.” Definitely not good thinking for my mental or physical state! Since learning about the benefits of exercise for RA, I have re-tooled my approach.

Now instead of 4-5 days a week of hard exercise (90-min. Power Vinyasa yoga or workouts with a personal trainer friend), I am aiming for 5-6 days a week of light to medium exercise. So far that has included 1-2 days of Bikram yoga, a long walk or two, and some sessions with the Wii Fit Plus. I have to plan carefully because my job as a massage therapist is physical too, which tends to wear me out when combined with exercise.

I know this is a lot more intense exercise than many other RA’ers can do each week. And for that I am incredibly grateful. I will keep hanging in there because for me exercise is 75% about my mind and 25% about my body. I’d really like to avoid adding an antidepressant to the ever growing list of meds.

So I guess that despite the title … this turned out to be a lot more gratitude than woes.

Okay, it’s official … I’ve registered for my first 5K ever … and my first Jingle Bell Run for Arthritis!

Some friends run the race every year, and have committed to walking the 5K with me. My knees just won’t let me run, but I think I can do the longer of the two events. I better have the paraffin dip ready to go afterwards though … guarantee I will be chilled to the bone!

The knees have been “hinky” for well over 10 years. It’s likely to be more OA than RA, but I’m planning to ask the Rheumy next week if we should do more evaluation. Pain levels have been much higher than “normal” in the last several months. Bah on that – I’m doing the 5K for as many years as I possibly can.

Let me know about your Jingle Bell Run experiences – I’d love to hear!