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Baths To Soothe Rheumatoid Arthritis: What Works Best?

Posted on April 18, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D.
Article written by
Sarah Winfrey

People who have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a chronic inflammatory condition, often experience significant joint pain, swelling, and other uncomfortable symptoms. Many myRAteam members find that baths — in addition to medication and lifestyle changes — can help them feel better.

Here are some of the most highly recommended kinds of baths for anyone with rheumatoid arthritis looking to soothe their painful, achy joints.

The Best Baths for Arthritis: myRAteam Members Weigh In

Many myRAteam members enjoy warm Epsom salt baths to help soothe their RA-related discomfort. “I take a hot bath with Epsom salt and a good book,” one member wrote. “It helps before I retire for the night.” Another added, “Epsom salt is all that helps me currently be able to get some relief. If I soak in a hot Epsom salt bath in the morning, it helps tremendously. I also take one in the evening.”

However, some people struggle with the heat of a warm bath. One member explained, “I love taking a hot bath for my aches. But I have bad circulation, so when I get out, my feet swell and hurt from the hot water decreasing my circulation.”

Another responded, “You must be careful and not have the water ‘hot.’ Not only will it give you swelling and pain, it will drive your blood pressure up and take all of the natural oils out of your skin. A comfortably warm bath will be beneficial for RA without the problems of hot water.”

Different people prefer different temperatures and soaks. Ultimately, choose based on what best soothes your own rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.

Baths Do’s and Don’ts for People With Rheumatoid Arthritis

Experts agree that people with RA should take baths if they find it helps their symptoms. Still, no bath will change the underlying cause of your RA or its symptoms. And a bath will not stop your disease from acting up. That said, when rheumatoid arthritis aches and pains arise, baths can be a welcome part of your treatment.

Before you try any new RA therapies — baths included — ask your rheumatologist for medical advice. Beyond that, read on for the major factors to consider when you choose the kind of bath to take.

Water Temperature

Moist heat therapy temporarily eases the pain that many people experience with RA. (Baths obviously offer moist heat therapy, but some types of heating pads can also provide it.) This is because heat increases circulation in your blood vessels, which helps to bring nutrients to the heated area. Heat can also help relax your muscles and even improve your tolerance for pain.

Most experts do not recommend an exact water temperature for the perfect therapeutic bath, but many use the word “warm” to describe what to aim for. In general, it should be warm enough to heat your painful joints without being uncomfortable. It should not cause you to overheat or burn your skin.

Other experts recommend cold water for helping with RA pain, as it acts as a natural anti-inflammatory. Most cold-water baths soak only a part of the body that is especially painful, like a hand, arm, or leg — they are typically not a full-body affair.

Keep these things in mind when it comes to cold baths and ice baths:

  • Ask your doctor for clearance before taking any cold dip, especially if you have heart disease.
  • Aim for water temperature that is closer to “cool” than to “cold.”
  • Limit cold-water therapy to a few minutes, and never stay in more than 15 minutes.
  • Stop soaking if the parts of your body that are underwater change color (especially bright red or gray-yellow).

Since immersion in cold and icy water is uncomfortable, many people with RA skip this method of pain relief. Instead, they often prefer alternating an ice pack with a warm bath. You can also alternate cold-water immersion with warm-water immersion. (This works for a body part or for your entire body.) A hot-cold immersion regimen may require multiple tubs or pools to be effective. Another option: Take a shower instead of a bath, and simply go back and forth with the water temperature.

If you’re unsure whether warm or cool baths would be most helpful for you, consult a physical therapist. Physical therapy specialists, as well as other pain management experts, often have access to pools designed for hot-cold therapy. You can ask them to safely and comfortably guide you through this therapy.

Mineral Baths

Mineral baths (like salt soaks) may help people with RA feel better … or they may not. One study from Portugal found that the quality of life of people with RA improved when they took mineral baths over a 21-day period. And, it noted, they improved more than those in the study who only received standard RA treatments. Other studies found that pairing saltwater baths with traditional treatments might produce benefits that last 6 to 12 months.

Some evidence shows Epsom salt (a mineral often added to baths) reduces inflammation. Maybe that’s why many myRAteam members recommend this kind of bath. “I take a hot bath with two cups of Epsom salt with sprinkled lavender oil,” shared one.

Dead Sea salt might be even more helpful than Epsom salt for improving RA symptoms like morning stiffness, grip strength, and the ability to perform daily activities. One group of scientists in Israel scanned a database of published studies to find those that referenced “Dead Sea” and rheumatic diseases. In the 31 reports that mentioned Dead Sea salt, they noted it consistently ranked as beneficial for those with RA.

All in all, though, studies related to the effectiveness of mineral baths are inconsistent and inconclusive. Also, little has been done to determine if the reported effects were linked to the minerals or to the water’s warm temperature. More research is needed.

Bath Safety

If you want to take a bath — hot or cold, with minerals or otherwise — stay safe. One member explained that their mobility issues posed a challenge for bathing. “I love my Epsom salt baths,” they wrote. But, they added, “I can only have a bath when my husband is home because I need help getting out of the tub.”

To that member’s point: Make sure you can get in and out of your tub safely. If you’re not certain about what bathing safely involves, talk to your rheumatologist or an occupational therapist. They might recommend adding grab bars, seats, and other safety tools to your bathing area.

Find Your Team

If you’re looking to connect with others who understand life with rheumatoid arthritis, join myRAteam today. This is the online social network for people diagnosed with RA and their loved ones. Here, you can ask questions, share your story, and join ongoing conversations.

Do you find that baths help ease your RA symptoms? Share your thoughts or tips in the comments below or by posting on myRAteam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D. is a dermatologist at the Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Sarah Winfrey is a writer at MyHealthTeam. Learn more about her here.

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