Paraffin Bath – Good for Scars, Joint Pain

We often use heat as a modality in the hand therapy clinic to warm up the hands in preparation for therapy.  A paraffin bath is one of the more intense forms of applying heat.

During the hot wax treatment, the hand is immersed in a “spa” of melted paraffin mixed with mineral oil.  The oil lowers the melting point of the wax (to about 120 degrees) and makes it tolerable for the body part to be immersed.  The hand is dipped 4-5 times with a brief pause in-between dips to let the wax set.  This layering creates a thicker coating of wax.  After the last dip, a plastic bag is placed around the waxed hand; then towels are wrapped over the plastic to hold the heat in for 5-10 minutes.  Because of the oil in the paraffin, it slides off the hand smoothly when the treatment is complete, leaving the hands feeling soft, moisturized and warm.

The Paraffin Bath is useful for several conditions.  

  • The intense heat is good for circulation.  
  • The penetrating heat can ease aching.  
    • It is often used in arthritic conditions with good relief of joint pain.
    • Aching from chronic repetitive injuries may also respond well to the wax treatment. 
  • Stiff joints will feel more flexible after an application of wax.  
    • Good for arthritic stiffness.
    • Also works well with stiffness caused by fractures, dislocations and other trauma.
  • Scars respond well to the heat and the coating of mineral oil, making them softer and more pliable in preparation for scar massage techniques.

Do not use a paraffin bath in the following situations:

  • If there is numbness in the hand.  
  • If you have an open wound.
  • If you have an injury that is acute, hot, swollen, inflamed.

To keep the paraffin bath as clean as possible, wash your hands well and dry them thoroughly before immersing in the wax.  If you have purchased your own machine, you can re-use the wax (however, we do not re-use wax in the clinic).  

Paraffin Baths are easily available, both online and in local stores and pharmacies.  Simple and small home units are priced around $40.  A larger, more durable model can range in price from about $80 to close to $200.  

It is possible to make your own bath at home using an old pot in a double boiler or an old crock pot set on low.  This can take a bit of time each session for the wax to melt.  Once melted, turn off the heat and monitor the temperature until the correct temperature is achieved.  It is important to use a thermometer to make sure that the wax is not too hot in order to avoid burns. The temperature should be 120-125 degrees. 

Recipe:

  • 2-4 blocks of paraffin
  • 1 ounce of mineral oil for each block of paraffin
  • drops of essential or scented oils as desired (optional)

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The Proper Application of a Tennis Elbow Strap

Tennis Elbow Straps, or Counterforce Straps, can be very helpful in reducing the pain of lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow) or medial epicondylitis (golfer’s elbow).
However, very rarely are people instructed in the proper technique to apply these straps.

The purpose of the counterforce strap is to reduce the tension on the tendinous origin of the muscles that start at the outside of the elbow for tennis elbow or the inside of the elbow for golfer’s elbow. These are the muscles that bend and straighten the wrist and the fingers. The strap helps distribute the tension that the tendon normally receives over a wider area. This allows the tendon to rest and become less inflamed.

To apply the strap for tennis elbow:

  • Rest your hand and forearm flat on the table, palm down.
  • Gently close the fingers.
  • Pull the wrist and fingers back off the table.
  • Do you see the muscle bulge out a bit in the forearm close to the elbow? (You may need to place your other palm over the muscles so you can feel the muscle contract.)
  • This muscle bulge is where the strap should be placed (normally about 2 finger widths from the elbow crease).
  • If the strap has a cushion or pillow, that cushion should be placed right over the muscle bulge.
  • Tighten the strap with just enough tension to feel the strap while the muscle is contracted.
  • When the muscle is not contracted, you should not feel any tension from the strap.

To apply the strap for golfer’s elbow:

  • Rest your hand and forearm flat on the table, palm up.
  • Gently close the fingers.
  • Pull the wrist forward off the table
  • Do you see the muscle bulge out a bit in the forearm close to the elbow? (You may need to place your other palm over the muscles so you can feel the muscle contract.)
  • This muscle bulge is where the strap should be placed (normally about 2 finger widths from the elbow crease).
  • If the strap has a cushion or pillow, that cushion should be placed right over the muscle bulge.
  • Tighten the strap with just enough tension to feel the strap while the muscle is contracted.
  • When the muscle is not contracted, you should not feel any tension from the strap.

Dos & Don’ts:

  • Do wear the strap only during activity.
  • Don’t wear the strap at night while sleeping.
  • Wearing the strap all the time places undue stress on tissues that are not used to the stress and can create new problems.
  • Do not wear the strap if you have numbness or tingling.
  • Do not wear the strap if you have nerve compressions such as carpal tunnel, cubital tunnel, or radial tunnel syndrome.  The tension can make these conditions worse.
  • If the strap seems to increase your pain level, do not wear it.