What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a centralized pain disorder affecting approximately 10 million Americans, 80% of whom are women (source). This condition can develop at any age, and though the exact cause is yet unknown fibromyalgia often appears following physical trauma. This trauma can be acute (illness, car accident, etc) or gradual, due to building stress over time.
The primary symptom of fibromyalgia is widespread pain, occurring on both sides of the body and both above and below the waist. This pain waxes and wanes, but never completely goes away, and difficult episodes can be triggered by contact with sensitive pain points on the body or general stress. Individuals with fibromyalgia also experience fatigue, difficulty sleeping, and difficulty focusing on mental tasks.
There is no cure for fibromyalgia, but there are several medications and therapies that can help to ease the burden that fibromyalgia sufferers shoulder. One of the most exciting treatments to receive attention lately is infrared saunas.
Can Infrared Saunas Treat Fibromyalgia?
Research on this alternative treatment is still in the early stages, but what we’ve learned so far has been very promising. Researchers in Japan exposed 13 women with fibromyalgia to heat therapy by placing them in an infrared sauna for 15 minutes and then under a warm blanket for a further 30 minutes, then repeated this therapy 2 or 5 times/week. All participants saw a reduction in their pain symptoms by 11-70% after the first treatment and maintained lower pain levels throughout the observation period.
In another study out of Japan, 44 women with fibromyalgia engaged in infrared sauna therapy 3 days/week and underwater exercise 2 days/week for a total of twelve weeks. All patients reported a significant decrease in their pain symptoms (of 31-77%) at the end of the program, and this effect remained stable at their six-month follow-up.
The link between sauna bathing and fibromyalgia is exciting, and unsurprising given what we know about the physiological effects of infrared saunas. As infrared heat penetrates your skin, you are exposed to mild stress and your body enters a sympathetic state similar to that achieved through exercise. You release endorphins, which bind to opiate receptors and give you an increased sense of peace--and decreased sense of pain (this effect is often known as “runner’s high”). In other words, sauna heat induces your body to treat your fibromyalgia itself.
The natural peace and relaxation that you might feel simply stepping into your sauna is an additional benefit on top of the physiological response. In a sauna, you can decrease your widespread pain and you can also decrease the stress that inflames this condition.
How To Treat Fibromyalgia with Infrared Sauna Bathing
Just one sauna session can improve your fibromyalgia symptoms, but to make the biggest difference in your everyday pain, stress, and quality of life it’s important to make saunas a habit. Try to fit in a 20-minute sauna session 5 days/week, and stick to your schedule. (If you can’t do 5 days, don’t be discouraged--whatever habit you can build is good for you!)
Make sauna bathing a favorite activity by incorporating things you enjoy into your routine. Listen to a short podcast, read a chapter of a book, or meditate while you heat up. Try diffusing essential oils or using salt crystals. If you find those things that make you wish you were in your sauna, keeping up with your heat therapy will be much easier!
Why infrared? Light-based saunas induce the same sympathetic response as traditional saunas at lower temperatures, making them gentler and the preferred sauna for many people.
As infrared saunas have gained popularity, the number of publicly accessible sauna rooms has exploded. However, to support a consistent heat therapy habit and pursue maximum hygiene we recommend investing in a home sauna. Sticking with your treatment will be much easier, and once you fall in love with sauna bathing you’ll be glad it’s so accessible!