Hot Wax Treatments Benefit Arthritic Hands

Many clinicians recommend some source of warmth for arthritic hands like gloves, hot packs, ultrasound treatment, and hot wax.

by Christina Lasich, MD Health Professional

If you look down at your hands and see knotted bunch of crooked joints that can no longer button your shirt, then you might want to read this. Hand arthritis affects millions of people every day. Even the mundane daily tasks become impossible when the hands are stiff, painful and deformed. If it's cold outside, then forget trying to tie your shoes. Cold just makes matters much worse.

Which brings us to the issue of warmth; arthritic hands work better when they are warm. Knowing that, many clinicians recommend some source of warmth for arthritic hands like gloves, hot packs, ultrasound treatment, and hot wax.

In a recent study, a number of people with hand arthritis were asked to try paraffin wax treatments. Those who used the paraffin wax experienced more pain relief and stronger hands compared to those who did not use the paraffin wax. Overall, the group using the hot wax treatments seemed to have a little easier time doing all those mundane daily activities like buttoning shirts and tying shoelaces.

How should paraffin wax baths be used? The temperature of the wax should be 50 degrees C ( 122 degrees F). Both hands should be dipped, removed, and redipped once the wax had hardened. Repeat for a total of 10 layers. After the layers of wax are applied, the hands should be covered with a plastic bag and wrapped in towels. After 15 minutes, the wax is removed. This daily protocol is pretty standard for the treatment of hand arthritis using paraffin wax.

The hope is that the warmth will stimulate circulation, relax muscles, improve nerve conduction, and improve joint fluidity. No one knows for sure why hot wax treatments are so therapeutic, but the results cannot be denied: it feels good, improves strength, and improves function.

In the past, paraffin wax used was only available at a physical therapy office. However, now, all you need to do is buy a home paraffin wax system from a retailer. For a nominal amount of money, you'll have your own unit that you can use daily for an indefinite period of time. The expense will be worth it when you can get dressed and do all the things you like to do with your hands.

Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2013 Apr;94(4):642-9

Christina Lasich, MD
Meet Our Writer
Christina Lasich, MD

Christina Lasich, M.D., wrote about chronic pain and osteoarthritis for HealthCentral. She is physiatrist in Grass Valley, California. She specializes in pain management and spine rehabilitation.