Using infrared saunas for pain relief

Jun 20 | Tom Harvey

Infrared saunas can offer a plethora of health benefits for users, including the potential alleviation of pain. For some, this treatment plan is so effective that some doctors prescribe it for people with chronic pain conditions such as arthritis and fibromyalgia. Infrared saunas penetrate the body tissues deeper than other heat therapy solutions, so the heat can relax the muscles and improve blood circulation while reducing inflammation.

Let’s look at how you can potentially use heat therapy to reduce pain, as well as explain how it works and whether it’s the right course of action for you.

What makes heat therapy an effective treatment for pain relief?

Infrared saunas work differently from traditional saunas, which heat the air around you to warm the body tissues from the outside in. Instead of heating up the environment around you, infrared saunas use light rays to penetrate the body and heat the tissues up from the inside out. This allows infrared saunas to penetrate the body deeper with heat, allowing you to benefit from more benefits that the body might not have been privy to if you had chosen another form of heat therapy like steam rooms.

As the heat is absorbed deeper into the body, it might be able to target deeper muscle spasms and pain more effectively than other heat sources. You might’ve heard some athletes find that steam rooms and traditional saunas don’t even touch the sides of their injury pain, but infrared sauna therapy can provide some relief. This is because of the depth the heat from infrared saunas can achieve, getting closer to the source of the pain.

How do infrared saunas work to reduce pain?

There are a number of ways infrared sauna therapy can reduce pain, but the method depends on what kind of pain you’re suffering from.

Pain from inflammation

Infrared saunas can help pain that comes from inflammation, such as joint pain and swelling, because the infrared light sparks your body’s heat stress response which can produce more white blood cells to fight the inflammation within your body.

A study found a correlation between the use of an infrared sauna and C-reactive, which is an inflammation marker in the blood. The initial findings found that participants who used saunas regularly had a lower level of inflammation when comparing the amount of C-reactive protein in the body.

Chronic pain condition

There has also been research to suggest that infrared sauna therapy can be used for treating chronic pain. One study used infrared saunas to treat patients with chronic pain conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis, by asking them to sit naked on a sauna bench without any fluids to drink. The duration in the sauna, which was timed at 30 minutes, increased heart rate, and core temperature while reducing blood pressure.

All participants experienced a decrease in weight and reported feeling happier after just one 30-minute session. They also reported less stiffness and decreased pain in those with chronic pain conditions, showing that infrared sauna therapy can immediately relieve pain with no negative impact on chronic pain sufferers.

Benefits of infrared sauna therapy for pain relief

Infrared saunas have been shown to provide substantial pain relief from both inflammation and chronic pain. Here are some of the main benefits you can expect from regular sauna sessions:

Using infrared saunas for pain relief: what does the research say?

One study conducted on 17 rheumatoid arthritis and 17 ankylosing spondylitis patients used a treatment plan of eight infrared sauna sessions over a four-week period, citing no adverse effects while pain and stiffness decreased significantly. Patients also reported reduced feelings of fatigue, making them feel healthier and happier in the short term.

Another study looked into the effects of infrared sauna use on post-exercise recovery of neuromuscular performance, sleep quality, muscle spasms and soreness, and autonomic nervous system function. The participants consisted of 16 male basketball players and were entered into one of two trials: one complex resistance exercise protocol followed by 20 minutes of passive recovery or an infrared sauna session.

The results showed less severe muscle soreness in the infrared sauna group, as well as an improved mood, readiness, and physical performance. Sleep quality was better after IRS treatment and there were no reported detrimental effects on the recovery of the athletes’ autonomic nervous system.

Is infrared sauna therapy the best treatment for you?

Infrared sauna health benefits sound appealing to many people looking for pain relief treatment, whether that be for post-exercise muscle soreness or chronic pain. It can be an excellent treatment option for many, but there are some things to consider before booking yourself into your treatment.

Infrared saunas are considered safe for the majority of people, but you might still want to talk to a doctor beforehand to make sure it’s the best treatment for you. Some health conditions might increase the risk of adverse effects from infrared sauna use, including:

Infrared sauna sessions are also not recommended when you’re pregnant, so it’s not best for aches and pains associated with this. As a rule of thumb, we recommend always talking to a medical professional before using an infrared sauna treatment plan to be safe.

How long should you use infrared sauna therapy for pain relief?

Many conditions require different treatment schedules when using infrared saunas for its benefits, and pain relief is no exception. Your doctor will be able to come up with a more detailed and personalised treatment plan, but the general idea is that the more infrared sauna sessions you can get in a week, the better pain relief you should be able to benefit from.

Research suggests that you should use an infrared sauna for a minimum of 30 minutes a day, four to seven times a week, over a four-week treatment plan. However, if you’ve never used an infrared sauna before, you might want to slowly work your way up to this with shorter, more spread-out sessions.

Frequently asked questions

Do infrared saunas help with arthritis?

Yes, there has been evidence to suggest that sauna therapy can help with arthritis pain and joint inflammation, although this might not work for everyone. In some cases, infrared sauna use has even been shown to aggravate arthritis symptoms. It’s best to talk to your doctor before embarking on this treatment to make sure it’s the right treatment plan for you and listen to your body during your IRS session. If you feel your pain flaring or becoming more uncomfortable, you should cut your session short.

How long does it take to see the benefits of an infrared sauna?

How long it takes to see the benefits of infrared heat therapy depends on your pain and condition. Some people report feeling better after just one session, while others take a few sessions to see an improvement. However, don’t be discouraged if you don’t see therapeutic effects instantly. It might take a few weekly sessions to treat severe pain, so stick with your treatment plan and try to fit in as many sessions as you can for the best results.

Final thoughts

Many people have seen results when using infrared heat therapy to alleviate pain from various ailments such as chronic pain and muscle soreness from sports injuries. Research has shown that it can help with conditions like arthritis and chronic pain, but also soreness resulting from exercise. Most people benefit from 30-minute sessions between four and seven times a week for at least four weeks. You might be prescribed an ongoing infrared heat therapy treatment plan if you’re a professional athlete.

There are some increased risks of using infrared saunas if you have certain health conditions, so make sure you talk to a medical professional before embarking on this type of therapy if you’re concerned.