Chronic pain, muscle stiffness, numerous health conditions and even certain cancers may benefit from immersing yourself in a sauna. But not just any sauna will do. Opt for an infrared sauna which can help your body flourish and thrive. Even if you’re not necessarily suffering from a specific condition or pain, infrared sauna use can benefit your body by reducing stiffness and inflexibility when used in conjunction with a fitness program.
Brief Sauna History
Saunas for healing is nothing new, especially since their healing history stretches back some 2,000 years.¹ The Finnish get credit for creating the earliest saunas, which were first dug into hills then constructed as log huts.¹ Log huts gave way to metal fireplaces and chimneys, eventually resulting in the introduction of the electric sauna stove in the 1950s.¹
By the mid-20th century you had your choice of a steam sauna or dry sauna, both of which use water poured over heated rocks to produce radiant heat. Steam saunas produce high humidity while dry saunas remain arid. The last several decades have brought you another sauna option: the infrared or far-infrared sauna.
What Makes Infrared Saunas Unique
Instead of heated rocks, infrared saunas use incandescent heat lamps while far-infrared saunas rely on metallic or ceramic heating elements.² Air temperatures in infrared saunas typically hit between 110 and 130 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to the traditional sauna temperature range of 180 to more than 200 degrees.¹
Despite the cooler air temperature, you actually sweat more from infrared saunas due to the infrared energy’s ability to warm the body much more effectively.¹ Less than 20 percent of the energy is used to heat the air, while 80 percent can be dedicated to warming your body.¹ While you can’t see the infrared energy with the naked eye, your body perceives it as warmth.³
Infrared Sauna Benefits
The energy transfer and heat produced by the infrared energy expands your capillaries. This, in turn, increases your tissue’s nutrient supply, expedites tissue repair and can decrease pain.⁴ It can help alleviate pain due to chronic conditions, such as rheumatic disease, as well as post-operative pain following knee replacement surgery.⁴ ⁵ The infrared energy decreases the serum levels of specific pain indicators and sedates the nerve endings, therefore reducing the overall levels of discomfort.⁴ ⁵ ⁶
Recovery from physical activity and exercise-induced muscle damage can come more swiftly with the use of an infrared sauna, as can the ability to stretch your muscles, ligaments and tendons to greater lengths for greater range of motion.¹ ³
Your cardiovascular system responds to the thermal stress produced by saunas by increasing the heart rate and, therefore, increasing your circulation.² Infrared saunas can be effective for hypertension, congestive heart failure and care following a heart attack.² Those suffering from chronic heart failure can benefit by an improvement in cardiac and vascular functions as well as improved levels of oxidative stress.²
Expanded capillaries and increased sweating allow waste to more readily be removed from the system. This can result in body purification, removing toxins and aiding recovery from environmentally induced illnesses.²
And infrared saunas are not done yet. They have been shown to help allergic rhinitis, fibromyalgia, phantom limb pain, menopause symptoms and the treatment of certain cancers, including breast and lung cancer.⁸⁻¹³ They can help heal wounds, boost your immune system, promote better sleep, stave off stress and fatigue, and reduce depression, anxiety and similar conditions.¹⁴⁻²¹
Infrared saunas work well as an adjunct to a regular fitness program for their ability to help you stretch your tissues more effectively and with a longer-lasting effect. This can be especially helpful for muscle spasms as well as tight muscles, ligaments and joint capsules.
- Phillips J. The Healing Power of Infrared Saunas. JashBotanicals.com. Accessed March 5, 2014.
- Crinnion WF. Sauna as a Valuable Clinical Tool for Cardiovascular, Autoimmune, Toxicantinduced and other Chronic Health Problems. Altern Med Rev. 2011;16(3):215-225.
- Hausswirth C, Louis J, Bieuzen F, Pournot H, Fournier J, Brisswalter J, et al. Effects of Whole-Body Cryotherapy vs. Far-Infrared vs. Passive Modalities on Recovery from Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage in Highly-Trained Runners. PLoS ONE. 2011;6(12):e27749.
- Wong CH, Lin LC, Lee HH, Liu CF. The Analgesic Effect of Thermal Therapy After Total Knee Arthroplasty. J Altern Complement Med. 2012;18(2): 175-179.
- Nurmikko T, Hietaharju A. Effect of exposure to sauna heat on neuropathic and rheumatoid pain. Pain. 1992;49:43-51.
- Lehman JF, Brunner GD, McMillan JA, Silverman DR, Johnson VC. Modification of heating patterns produced by microwaves at the frequencies of 2,456 and 900 mc by physiologic factors in the human. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 1964;45:555-563.
- Inoue S, Takemoto M, Chishaki A, Ide T, Nishizaka M, Miyazono M, et al. Leg Heating Using Far Infra-red Radiation in Patients with Chronic Heart Failure Acutely Improves the Hemodynamics, Vascular Endothelial Function, and Oxidative Stress. Intern Med. 2012;51: 2263-2270.
- Hu KH, Li WT. Clinical Effects of Far-Infrared Therapy in Patients with Allergic Rhinitis. Presented at: Proceedings of the 29th Annual International Conference of the IEEE EMBS; August, 2007; Lyon, France.
- Matsushita K, Masuda A, Tei C. Efficacy of Waon Therapy for Fibromyalgia Inter Med. 2008;47:1473-1476.
- Huang CY, Yang RS, Kuo TS, Hsu KH. Phantom Limb Pain Treated by Far Infrared Ray. Presented at: 31st Annual International Conference of the IEEE EMBS; September, 2009; Minneapolis, Minnesota.
- Chien LW, Liu SJ,Chang Y, Liu CF. Local Thermal Therapy Effects on Menopausal Symptoms and Bone Mineral Density. J Altern Complement Med. 2011;17(12):1133-1140.
- Nagasawa H, Udagawa Y, Kiyokawa S. Evidence that irradiation of far-infrared rays inhibits mammary tumor growth in SHN mice. Anticancer Res. 1999;19:1797-1800.
- Nagasawa H, Udagawa Y, Kiyokawa S. Inhibition by whole-body hyperthermia with far-infrared rays of the growth of spontaneous mammary tumors in mice. Anticancer Res. 1999;19:4125-4130.
- Toyokawa H, Matsui Y, Uhara J, Tsuchiya H, Teshima S, Nakanishi H, et al. Promotive Effects of Far-Infrared Ray on Full-Thickness Skin Wound Healing in Rats. Exp Biol Med. 2003;228:724.
- Kitchen SS, Partridge CJ. Infrared therapy. Physiotherapy. 1991;77:249–254.
- Miyata K, Hasegawa T, Maeda K, et al. The activation of immunological activity and ant-tumor eVects by mild hyperthermia. Jpn J Hyperthermic Oncol. 2005;21:33-34.
- Terunuma H, Wada A, Deng X, et al. Mild hyperthermia modulates the relative frequency of lymphocyte cell subpopulations: an increase in a cytolytic NK cell subset and a decrease in a regulatory T cell subset. Thermal Med. 2007;23:41-47.
- Ahmed K, Hori T, Yu DY, et al. Hyperthermia chemosensitization, chemical thermo-sensitization and apoptosis. Thermal Med. 2008;24:1-12.
- Itoh YH, Noguchi R. Pre-treatment with mild whole-body heating prevents gastric ulcer induced by restraint and water-immersion stress in rats. Int J Hyperthermia. 2000;16:183-191.
- Itoh Y, Ogawa K, Tazawa K, et al. Improvement of athletic performances by heat shock protein 70 induced with mild hyperthermia. Jpn J Clin Physiol. 2008;38:13-21.
- Yatsuzuka M, Wada S, Hara Y, et al (2005) Psychological characteristics after far-infrared hyperthermia evaluated using the proWle of mood state (POMS). Jpn J Hyperthermic Oncol. 2005;21:231-235.