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5 Tips for Pain Relieving Spa Treatments with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Living Well

June 09, 2022

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Studio Firma/Stocksy United

Studio Firma/Stocksy United

by Fiske Nyirongo


Fact Checked by:

Maria Gifford


by Fiske Nyirongo


Fact Checked by:

Maria Gifford


It may sound obvious, but it’s important to remember that the old adage “no pain, no gain” isn’t necessary for pain relief.

I first started getting spa treatments at the age of 18. I was a recent high school graduate, and it was my working mother’s way of showering me with congratulations. As I grew older, the spa treatments became an outlet for feeling better about my changing body, especially after I received my rheumatoid arthritis (RA) diagnosis when I was 20.

My main requirement for a spa was a welcoming environment, including the aesthetics and good customer service. I wanted to prioritize my self-care and feel pampered. I would get a range of treatments, including manicures, pedicures, and brow and eyelash services.

It wasn’t until I was 28 that I also considered getting spa treatments specifically for my RA pain. My friend told me that she had been getting massages to help with her lower back pain due to her desk job. It made me wonder if similar spa treatments could help my RA.

So I started trying new types of treatments, like hot stone treatment, hydrotherapy, and Swedish massage.

It took me some time to realize that not all spas are created equally. Some spas are strictly for vanity treatments, even though they may offer a wide range of different therapies. I was still going to my beautician specialist spas to try new pain-relieving treatments, not knowing that other spas existed with different training requirements for their employees.

I learned this lesson quite painfully recently.

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A painful trip to the spa

I had been going to a new spa for a few weeks. The staff were very friendly, and I loved the style of treatments they offered, including the nail bar and the massage rooms. The staff made me feel at ease, so I didn’t ask questions — they all appeared to be professional.

I went in for a pain management treatment that required the use of heat. The session started well, with the spa therapist going about her job while I dutifully remained quiet as she worked.

There was a spot in my upper back that had troubled me for some time, so she suggested applying a hot compress over it for longer. I agreed. A few moments later, she walked out of the room and told me she’d be back soon.

I was already getting uncomfortable before she left, but I did not voice this. I thought the treatment was working. I kept reminding myself of the old adage “no pain, no gain,” even though I’ve questioned this saying thousands of times before — after all, my RA pain doesn’t feel like a gain to me. But I convinced myself that the pain I was feeling would be worth the relief I was promised.

I was wrong. My skin was scalded after this treatment. Instead of relief, I had a burn to take care of.

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Tips for a pain relieving spa treatment

I have since come to learn that not all spas, or spa treatments, are created in the same image. If you experience chronic pain, you need to do your research on spas and their treatments.

Here are a few things you can do to enjoy your first or subsequent spa dates.

1. Choose the right spa close to where you live

Choosing the right spa is so important. While I’ve enjoyed going to beauty salons, feeling pampered, and getting my nails done, I needed to learn that these spas did not offer staff or treatments that understood the importance of pain-relieving therapies for people with a range of chronic conditions and abilities.

Find a spa that offers the types of treatments you want with trained professionals that will be suited for your needs.

I have found that choosing the right spa close to where I live has helped me to feel more comfortable. I find it more reassuring if the spa I go to is in a familiar environment. You can do this by mapping out the area you live in through Google Maps and searching “spas.”

2. Do some research

Once you’ve narrowed down the spas you find promising, go to their treatment list and find out if they offer treatments for pain relief.

Remember that all spas offer treatments that they want you to believe work and have zero risk. They might offer their own resources for you to check out, but your job is to find out if these treatments have been proven to work. This is the bulk of the research you need to slightly obsess over before your treatment, but it doesn’t need to be work-intensive.

There are so many online resources you can access that do the research for you. When I was considering cryotherapy, I visited this site that presented the latest research findings, was easy to read, and provided the primary sources to do further research. Comparisons of different types of massages have also been incredibly useful.

You could also ask your doctor if the treatment you’re interested in is recommended. Additionally, some spas have trained medical professionals who carry out treatments. Find out if this is an option for you.

3. Arrive early for your treatment

Pain relief treatments usually come with a medical form you are required to fill in. Be as detailed as possible and take your time explaining any current pain or symptoms so that the spa therapist can be fully aware of your situation and tailor the treatment for your needs.

Arriving earlier will also help you feel more comfortable with your spa provider. This will help you speak up if you feel uncomfortable during your treatment.

4. Listen to your body

During your treatment, remember that the saying “no pain, no gain” is not a mantra you should hold on to. Let your spa therapist help you. If you feel any uncomfortable pain, especially when a cold or hot item is applied to your body, ask questions and voice any concerns. You should not ignore discomfort, especially if it lasts for a long time.

For some people, the serene and relaxing environment of a spa makes it easy to fall asleep. But I would recommend that you don’t, especially on your first treatments designed for pain relief.

Not only do you need to stay awake to speak up if something doesn’t quite feel right, but I’d also recommend spending the time trying to connect and listen to your body. I have found this time extremely therapeutic to connect with my body and understand some of my changing symptoms.

5. Speak up

Speaking up is not just for when you feel discomfort. It’s also for when your spa therapist asks how the session is going so far. Do not hold back on anything that might help you both. Your spa therapist is eager to give you an excellent experience, so mention anything that works or feels good for you.

Speaking up will also help you get more comfortable with your spa therapist. This builds a rapport and makes your appointment more effective, meaning you won’t have to start looking for another spa.

Don’t be a rookie like me

I was a rookie spa-goer when I had my accidental burn. I didn’t understand different spa environments, and the importance of the treatment type and the therapist.

Over time, pain-relieving spa treatments have become an extremely important tool for me to connect with my body and manage some of my symptoms. I hope my experience helps you be more prepared for your first spa treatment with RA.

As always, consult a doctor before trying spa treatments for your pain. Some treatments can worsen your pain. During your treatments, remember that if your pain is getting worse, your treatment is not right for you.

Fact checked on June 09, 2022

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About the author

Fiske Nyirongo

Fiske Nyirongo is a a freelance writer based in Lusaka, Zambia. She is currently studying communications, remotely, at Mulungushi University in Kabwe, Zambia. While she prefers a quiet corner of a café with a good book to most activities outside, she is working on getting more acquainted with outdoor excursions. When she’s not writing from the comfort of her desk, she loves checking out new restaurants, perfecting her swimming skills, and exploring the malls and streets of Lusaka.

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