Sauna bathing dates back to 2,000 BC, and while the practice is still an important part of cultural life in many parts of the world, there’s a growing interest in heat therapy as a form of alternative medicine for chronic pain.
The soothing, relaxing heat of a sauna can help alleviate pain and stress while helping chronic pain sufferers enjoy more restful sleep.
There are many benefits of heat therapy for chronic pain and fibromyalgia, including:
1. Reduced Pain
For patients suffering from chronic pain and fibromyalgia, the greatest benefit of using a sauna is pain relief.
A study out of Japan highlights the benefits of infrared saunas for fibromyalgia. Although the study was small – 13 female participants in total – the results were promising. All patients reported a decrease in pain after the first session, but the pain relief was greater and longer lasting after the 10th session.
- Tender point pain reduction of +/- 30%
- Reduced autoimmune disease symptoms
- Better social life due to lower pain levels
- Reduced muscular spasms
2. Reduced Inflammation
Regular sauna sessions can help reduce inflammation that contributes to pain. High levels of C-reactive protein in the blood indicate that inflammation is affecting the musculoskeletal and nervous systems. Fibromyalgia patients often have elevated levels of C-reactive protein.
A study published in the European Journal of Epidemiology found that participants who used saunas four to seven times per week had significantly less C-reactive protein in their blood compared to those who used saunas one to three times per week.
3. Higher Levels of Endorphins
Exposure to the heat in a sauna activates the sympathetic nervous system, which triggers the release of pain-relieving endorphins, like beta-endorphins, epinephrine and serotonin.
According to a study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, people who suffer from chronic pain have above-average levels of beta-endorphins, or B-endorphins, in their blood. All types of endorphins target opiate receptors in the brain and have similar effects to morphine.
Endorphins are what create that “runner’s high” athletes experience during rigorous physical activity. This flood of endorphins can make you feel energized and pain-free. Sauna bathing can have the same effect for people suffering with fibromyalgia or chronic pain.
4. Improved Circulation
Circulation can help alleviate pain in people suffering from chronic pain and fibromyalgia. The heat from an infrared sauna increases your heart rate and oxygen levels, improving circulation. Improved circulation can help reduce inflammation and pain as a result.
Saunas offer many benefits to those suffering with chronic pain and fibromyalgia, including reduced pain and inflammation. More studies are needed to explore the long-term benefits, but growing interest in the therapy will move research forward.
Most people, including those who are pain-free, can benefit from sauna bathing (as long as their doctors approve). While many gyms and spas have saunas, a home sauna may be a worthwhile investment if you suffer from chronic pain. A home sauna will allow you to maximize these benefits by giving you access to heat therapy anytime.