Far Infrared Sauna Therapy Decreases Pain and Inflammation
by Jenna Greenfield MD
The Immune System
The immune system is an extraordinarily complex system designed to identify foreign cells and proteins, or our own damaged cells and proteins, and selectively attack and remove them. When an immune cell identifies something in the body that is not supposed to be there, it sets off an inflammatory response. Cytokines, or cell signaling molecules, are released to recruit other immune cells to the site of the attack. Blood flow to the area increases, and capillaries become permeable, or “leaky”, allowing immune cells to move from the blood vessels into the tissue, causing swelling.
The destruction of the foreign cells causes the formation of reactive oxidative species and oxidative damage to the surrounding tissues as well. This in turn can further activate the inflammatory response, so there must be carefully designed mechanisms to turn off the inflammatory response and repair the damaged tissue.
Diseases Caused by the Immune System
Disease states can arise as a result of the inappropriate activation of the immune response, or a failure to turn off the immune response. Allergies and asthma are the result of immune system activation in response to harmless environmental triggers. Autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, and many others, are the result of immune system activation in response to our own body’s normal cells and proteins.
Disease states can also arise from the failure of the inflammatory response to appropriately turn off, causing a low grade chronic inflammation that continually causes oxidative damage throughout the body. It has been shown that with age, the regulatory mechanisms responsible for turning off inflammation become disordered and less effective, and that chronic inflammation is a part of the aging process. It is in fact thought that inflammation is a cause of many age related diseases (1), and of aging itself. Chronic inflammation has been shown to cause, or significantly worsen, the following conditions (1-4):
- Cardiovascular disease
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
- Cerebrovascular disease (stroke)
- Alzheimers disease
Far Infrared Saunas Decrease Inflammation
Far infrared sauna therapy decreases inflammation (5-12). Inflammation is measured by inflammatory markers in the blood, proteins that are known to be produced with inflammation, and whose levels correlate with the level of inflammation in the body. One of the most used clinically is C-reactive protein, or CRP. In a long term study of over 2000 men, CRP was found to be inversely related to frequency of sauna use, or, the more often one uses a sauna, the lower their CRP (5,6). Another study found that with a single far infrared treatment, CRP significantly decreased, as did other inflammatory markers (8). Far infrared light is known to have a profound anti-inflammatory effect on the vascular endothelium, which significantly decreases the risk of blood clots and vascular disease (8). Far infrared saunas have been shown to improve inflammatory markers in autoimmune diseases (9,10). Several studies have shown that far infrared therapy decreases delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which is the muscle soreness the days following a workout, and is caused by inflammation (11,12).
Far Infrared Saunas Alleviate Chronic Pain
Along with inflammation, far infrared therapy has been shown to alleviate chronic pain. Pain is an important symptom designed to alert us to a problem in our body. In the case of an inflammatory response, pain tells us to rest and protect the area while the immune system does its job. Chronic pain is virtually always associated with chronic inflammation. There have been clinical studies showing that far infrared therapy significantly alleviates pain in patients with the following conditions (13-21):
- Chronic lower back pain
- Chronic neck pain
- Phantom limb pain
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Ankylosing spondylitis
- Menstrual pain
- Chronic tension headaches
EMFs and Near Infrared Decrease the Anti-Inflammatory Benefits
These benefits of reduced pain and inflammation will be maximum in a sauna with the lowest possible electromagnetic fields, as EMFs have been shown to increase oxidative damage and inflammation. Read about the dangers of EMFs here. High Tech Health saunas have the lowest EMFs of any sauna. See our third party EMF testing here. In any other sauna, the EMFs take away from the anti-inflammatory benefits.
Near infrared has also been shown to increase oxidative damage and inflammation. Read about the harmful effects of near infrared here. If lowered inflammation is your goal, a far infrared sauna will give you the most anti-inflammatory benefits.
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