Pain and Inflammation Benefits

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
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Cancer
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
  • Cerebrovascular disease (stroke)
  • Alzheimers disease
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Depression

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
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Menstrual pain
  • Osteoarthritis
  • 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 hereHigh 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.

References

  1. Gupta SC, Kunnumakkara AB, Aggarwal S, Aggarwal BB. Inflammation, a Double-Edge Sword for Cancer and Other Age-Related Diseases. Frontiers in Immunology. 2018 Sep 27; 9: 2160
  2. Rea IM,  Gibson DS, McGilligan V, McNerlan SE, Alexander HD, Ross OA, Age and Age-Related Diseases: Role of Inflammation Triggers and Cytokines. Frontiers in Immunology. 2018 Apr 9; 9: 58
  3. Shacter E, Weitzman SA. Chronic inflammation and cancer. Oncology (Williston Park). 2002 Feb;16(2):217-26
  4. Felger JC. Imaging the Role of Inflammation in Mood and Anxiety-related Disorders. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2018;16(5):533-558
  5. Laukkanen JA, Laukkanen T. Sauna bathing and systemic inflammation. Eur J Epidemiol. 2018 Mar;33(3):351-353
  6. Kunutsor SK, Laukkanen T, Laukkanen JA. Longitudinal associations of sauna bathing with inflammation and oxidative stress: the KIHD prospective cohort study. Ann Med. 2018 Aug;50(5):437-442
  7. Masuda A, Miyata M, Kihara T, Minagoe S, Tei C. Repeated sauna therapy reduces urinary 8-epi-prostaglandin F(2alpha). Jpn Heart J. 2004 Mar;45(2):297-303
  8. Lin CC, Liu XM, Peyton K, Wang H, Yang WC, Lin SJ, Durante W. Far Infrared Therapy Inhibits Vascular Endothelial Inflammation via the Induction of Heme Oxygenase-1. Arteriosclerosis, thrombosis, and vascular biology. 2008 Jan 17; 28(4): 739-745
  9. Matveĭkov GP, Marushchak VV. [An evaluation of the effect of the sauna on the clinical, laboratory and psychological indices in rheumatoid arthritis]. Ter Arkh. 1993;65(12):48-51
  10. Isomäki H. The sauna and rheumatic diseases. Ann Clin Res. 1988;20(4):271-5
  11. Mero A, Tornberg J, Mäntykoski M, Puurtinen R. Effects of far-infrared sauna bathing on recovery from strength and endurance training sessions in men. Springerplus. 2015 Jul 7;4:321
  12. Khamwong P, Paungmali A, Pirunsan U, Joseph L. Prophylactic Effects of Sauna on Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness of the Wrist Extensors. Asian J Sports Med. 2015 Jun;6(2):e25549
  13. Masuda A, Koga Y, Hattanmaru M, Minagoe S, Tei C. The effects of repeated thermal therapy for patients with chronic pain. Psychother Psychosom. 2005;74(5):288-94
  14. Ervolino F, Gazze R. Far infrared wavelength treatment for low back pain: Evaluation of a non-invasive device. Work. 2015;53(1):157-62
  15. Lai CH, Leung TK, Peng CW, Chang KH, Lai MJ, Lai WF, Chen SC. Effects of far-infrared irradiation on myofascial neck pain: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study. J Altern Complement Med. 2014 Feb;20(2):123-9
  16. Huang CY, Hsu KH, Chen JH, Yang RS. Treating severe phantom limb pain by applying far infrared ray to 'phantom limb'. J Formos Med Assoc. 2016 Mar;115(3):215-6
  17. Oosterveld FG, Rasker JJ, Floors M, Landkroon R, van Rennes B, Zwijnenberg J, van de Laar MA, Koel GJ. Infrared sauna in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. A pilot study showing good tolerance, short-term improvement of pain and stiffness, and a trend towards long-term beneficial effects. Clin Rheumatol. 2009 Jan;28(1):29-34
  18. Matsushita K, Masuda A, Tei C. Efficacy of Waon therapy for fibromyalgia. Intern  Med. 2008;47(16):1473-6
  19. Hong YR. [Effects of heat therapy using a far infrared rays heating element for dysmenorrhea in high school girls]. J Korean Acad Nurs. 2011 Feb;41(1):141-8
  20. Bagnato GL, Miceli G, Atteritano M, Marino N, Bagnato GF. Far infrared emitting plaster in knee osteoarthritis: a single blinded, randomised clinical trial. Reumatismo. 2012 Dec 20;64(6):388-94
  21. Kanji G, Weatherall M, Peter R, Purdie G, Page R. Efficacy of regular sauna bathing for chronic tension-type headache: a randomized controlled study. J Altern Complement Med. 2015 Feb;21(2):103-9
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