Mud Bath Therapy for Arthritis

Would Mud Baths Be a Good Adjunctive Treatment for Arthritis Pain?

When people experience early symptoms of arthritis or they have doctor-diagnosed arthritis, the search for pain relief is on. Everyone wants the same thing—a fast-acting, effective solution for managing arthritis pain so that its interference in daily activities and other aspects of life is minimal.

Here's the bad news. Finding that solution can take time and it won't be the same for everyone. The initial dilemma for most people is whether to follow a traditional or natural treatment path. Then, it largely becomes trial and error. You must try a treatment to determine its effectiveness for you.

With many of the traditional treatments, there have been clinical studies that back up its effectiveness, as well as its safety profile. But, you still have to try it for yourself. And, even if you find an effective traditional treatment, there usually is residual pain and inflammation.

With natural treatments, especially those that may be viewed as more obscure, there isn't as much definitive research to support its use. Perhaps the best approach is to learn about each pain-relieving approach that interests you and talk to your doctor about including it as an adjunctive treatment. In other words, don't stop your traditional treatment, but rather, include as an adjunctive treatment (i.e., one treatment is added to another).

Mud bath or mud pack therapy are examples. Researchers have looked at how mud pack therapy works for knee osteoarthritis, whether mud compresses relieve painful hands affected by rheumatoid arthritis, and whether mud baths may help people with psoriatic arthritis who have been treated with TNF blockers (also called TNF inhibitors). Let's look at the findings.

Mud Pack Therapy for Knee Osteoarthritis

Researchers evaluated 20 studies that met inclusion criteria—randomized clinical trials, systematic reviews, or meta-analyses which assessed mud pack therapy on perceived pain, function, and quality of life among groups of 20 or more study participants with diagnosed knee osteoarthritis. Perceived pain was analyzed in 17 studies, function was analyzed in 13 studies, and quality of life was considered in five of the studies.

In the journal Rheumatology, a mud pack was defined as "a natural product that consists of a mixture of mineral or mineral-medicinal water (including seawater or saltwater from lakes) with organic or inorganic material produced from biological and/or geological processes and used as a therapeutic treatment in the form of a mud wrap or bath." 

The primary use of mud pack therapy is stated as relief of rheumatic musculoskeletal pain. While the main mode of action of the mud pack is thermal, there is also systemic action allowing it to act at the molecular or chemical level in degenerative conditions, such as osteoarthritis.

There was variation in the temperature and length of treatment in the studies, ranging from 42 to 47 degrees C (108-117 degrees F) and 15 to 30 minutes, so it should be noted there was some inconsistency in methods used. Despite that, researchers were able to conclude that mud pack therapy was effective for perceived pain, function, and quality of life in knee osteoarthritis patients.

Mud Compress Therapy for Rheumatoid Arthritis Hands 

A randomized, controlled, double-blind study involving 45 people with rheumatoid arthritis evaluated the effectiveness of mud compresses applied to the hands, according to Rheumatology International. The mud compresses were used five times a week at home over a three-week period.

A positive response to treatment was defined as a 30 percent reduction in the number of swollen and tender joints, a reduction of 20 percent or more in disease activity (specifically, physician global assessment of disease activity), and 20 percent or more reduction in joint pain severity (specifically, patient global assessment of joint pain).

Results revealed that treatment with mud compresses relieved pain affecting the hands of study participants with rheumatoid arthritis, and reduced the number of swollen and tender joints in the hands. The results suggest it may indeed be an effective adjunctive treatment for hands affected by rheumatoid arthritis.

Mud Bath Therapy for Psoriatic Arthritis

There were 36 study participants enrolled in a study which evaluated the effect of mud bath therapy on people with psoriatic arthritis who were treated with TNF blockers within the previous 6 month period, according to the journal Joint Bone Spine.

Half of the group received mud bath therapy while continuing treatment with their TNF blocker. The other half of the group only received treatment with a TNF blocker. Study participants were assessed using CRP, PASI, DAS28, swollen and tender joint counts, VAS pain, HAQ (Health Assessment Questionnaire), SF-26, and ultrasound.

Results revealed significant improvement in PASI, DAS28, swollen and tender joint counts, and HAQ in the group that received mud bath therapy as well as treatment with their TNF blocker. Researchers concluded that mud bath therapy has a beneficial effect on decreasing residual synovial inflammation in psoriatic arthritis patients treated with TNF blockers.

More About Mud

We think of mud as a simple mix of soil and water, but mud contains minerals that may have beneficial effects. Actually, mud from different regions of the world has different properties—including very high mineral content. Basically, there are three types of mud used in mud baths: mud from natural hot springs, mud from underneath ancient lakes (e.g., Moor mud), and mud that is found in sea beds (e.g., mud from the Dead Sea).

A Word From Verywell

People who live with chronic arthritis pain must look for adjunctive treatments to help deal with residual pain and inflammation. While mud therapy is not likely your first consideration, there appear to be inherent benefits which make it a real option.

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