Sebastian
June 08, 2021
7 min read

Does a Sauna Provide Effective Pain Relief?

Exploring the link between saunas and thermal therapy to assist with pain relief

Clearlight would like to remind users that this should not be taken as direct medical advice, and you should always consult a licensed health practitioner before making any significant changes to your lifestyle

While the number of people owning and frequently using saunas for the benefits of relaxation and preventative healthcare is steadily increasing, it’s important to remember that saunas remain a vital tool in providing relief for those experiencing consistent and chronic pain. This form of alternative treatment has become even more valuable for those suffering from pain that do not want to resort to addictive opiate-based painkillers as a primary means of addressing their pain.

With this in mind, today we’re going to explore the growing body of medical evidence suggesting that thermal therapy, in the form of traditional and infrared sauna therapy, is a safe, convenient and relaxing means of tackling a variety of pains that we experience on a daily basis.

Do Saunas Alleviate Chronic Pain?

The link between the benefits of tackling chronic pain with the use of saunas has become firmer in recent years, as more research has centered on the correlation between sauna use, otherwise known as thermal therapy, and the alleviation of muscle, joint and chronic pain disorders like fibromyalgia.

The American College of Rheumatology has found that thermal therapy, in the form of sauna usage combined with underwater exercises “improved the quality of life as well as the pain and symptoms of patients,” with the researchers pointing out that some patients had experienced as much as a 77% reduction in their pain.

This research was backed up by a paper published in 2005 whose authors wrote that “repeated thermal therapy may be a promising method for the treatment of chronic pain.” The thesis has been tested on sufferers of chronic fatigue syndrome, too, with the authors of the study stating that after five infrared sauna treatments per week for a period of a month, “perceived fatigue levels significantly decreased after therapy.” Better still, they specified that “no patients reported any adverse effects during therapy,” suggesting that not only is the use of saunas for thermal therapy effective, it is also a seemingly safer means of treating pain when compared to traditional opiate-based painkillers.

How Does a Sauna Help With Pain Relief?

Now that we’ve addressed some of the peer-reviewed evidence that saunas do indeed help facilitate pain relief, it’s time to understand how the process actually works. In the context of pain relief, saunas can have a noticeable impact on the negative symptoms from muscle strains, arthritis stiffness and joint paints, neuralgia, bursitis, muscle spasms and even chronic pain disorders like fibromyalgia. This is the result of the body welcoming the thermal therapy offered inside a sauna, which causes our blood vessels to dilate, while the production of oxygen-rich blood circulates through our bodies. The benefits also extend to infrared saunas more specifically, which can help to accelerate the production of repair and recovery chemicals that can help in the relief of aches and pains.

Does a Sauna Help Reduce Inflammation?

Inflammation is another area that thermal therapy, and more specifically, infrared saunas can have an extremely beneficial health impact. In thermal therapy, our circulatory system benefits from the added flow of oxygen-rich blood, while the blood vessels have the chance to relax and dilate, helping to address the root of inflammation. In relation to infrared saunas in particular, this energy is converted by our bodies into a chemical known as ATP, the molecule that stores and transfers energy to our cells, otherwise known as the ‘engine’ of our cells. With added energy from the infrared light, our blood becomes rich in ATP and oxygen, which circulates through our body and reduces the overall impact of inflammation.

Is a Sauna Beneficial for Lower Back Pain?

A study from the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research found that heat therapy was extremely effective in tackling lower back pain, with the authors pointing out that the “results of a study on low back pain in adults showed that thermotherapy after five days reduced pain significantly compared to an oral placebo.” Their research indicates that thermal therapy helped to noticeably reduce lower back pain, with the authors pointing out that it can be used “alongside pharmacologic treatments, as supplementary ones for reducing pain in the patients with lower back pain.”

Does Thermal Therapy Help With Muscle Aches and Exercise Pain?

A recent study found that in a sample size of ten men taking part in a vigorous exercise regime, infrared saunas were found to be extremely beneficial when it came to post-workout levels of aches and soreness, and accelerated their recovery times. The authors noted that the penetration of heat into our fat tissues and neuromuscular system from far-infrared sauna bathing “appears favourable for the neuromuscular system to recover from maximal endurance performance.”

Do Saunas Help With Arthritis?

One study explored the link between infrared saunas and the treatment of pain associated with arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis, with the authors confident that infrared sauna treatments assisted with the management and reduction of pain in a comfortable and relaxing environment. They state that “in all patients, a clinically relevant improvement was seen during infrared sauna treatment with pain and stiffness decreasing 5 to 24 points… pain reduced approximately 40% and 60% and stiffness approximately 50% and 60% for patients.” They concluded that “the results of this study show that the use of infrared saunas as treatment is feasible and well-tolerated in patients with inflammatory arthritis,” suggesting that infrared saunas are a safe and effective means of treating pains associated with arthritis.

How To Use An Infrared Sauna For Pain Relief

The process of using an infrared sauna for the specific targeting of pain relief is simple, relaxing, and as the medical research indicates, effective in tackling sources of pain in our body and aching muscles. Before you start your session, ensure that you’re feeling fine, and well hydrated before stepping inside. Depending on your previous experience with an infrared sauna, you should sit for anywhere between 20-40 minutes to give yourself enough time to soak up the infrared energy, and allow the process to take hold inside your body’s vital systems. Inside, you can either sit still and meditate, or stretch certain parts of your body to send oxygen and ATP-rich blood to the problem areas. Make sure these remain subdued movements, as you do not want to exercise inside the sauna itself.

If you’re looking at an alternative form of treatment for any significant pain issues, or simply looking to own your own infrared sauna, use our Buying Guide to help decide which is the right sauna for you. 

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