About fifteen years ago my juvenile rheumatoid arthritis was raging and my body was rejecting every medicine I tried. I was in a bad spot and pretty desperate to find something, anything that would help my extreme pain and joint swelling.
Many of the things I found out about were intriguing, but most came with a pretty hefty price tag. And since I was unable to work at the time, I had to think hard about each idea I came up with. One possibility kept popping up, as much as I didn't want it to because of the cost. But I finally decided to go for it, and it was the best money I've spent to help my pain, ever.
Health benefits of the infrared sauna
Far infrared saunas are used around the world, and especially in the East, for conditions like cardiac disease and failure, type 2 diabetes, chronic pain, and peripheral vascular disease. There are also claims made for improvements in weight loss, fatigue, sleep, dysmenorrhea, some forms of cancer, motor function, and treating sunburns.
One study published in Clinical Rheumatology found improvement of pain and stiffness for people with RA and ankylosing spondylitis.1 In reading about the benefits of this treatment, it almost seems too good to be true.
Infrared sauna sounded too good to be true
Whenever I come across a potential treatment that has so many claims attached to it, I have to be a bit skeptical. This is when I look further into sources and ask myself- are there multiple places that are reporting this or do they all link back to one, and how reputable are they? I also look at whether the treatment has been around a while or could it potentially be a fad.
Existing research on infrared sauna
When I continued reading in order to answer these questions I realized that there was solid science behind the claims. I was reading articles from the National Institute of Health and found out that far-infrared treatment has been used in Japan and Germany medically since the 1960's and in some places much longer.
So, I tried a session in a sauna and I was hooked. Before too long I had figured out how to fund one for myself. Not to keep you in suspense, my sauna was close to 2,000 dollars, and you can spend anywhere from $1,000 to above $3,000 depending on the size you want.
How do infrared saunas work?
In order to understand why far infrared saunas work, it helps to have an understanding of far infrared rays in general.
What are far infrared rays?
Far infrared rays are part of the full light spectrum emitted from the sun's rays and comprise approximately 80% of the total. Far infrared rays (FIR) transfer pure energy in the form of heat and are absorbed 1.5 inches beneath the skin's surface. Our bodies also emit FIRs, and also receive these necessary electromagnetic rays from the sun, along with vitamin D.
Because a FIR sauna doesn't heat the air, it will work at lower temperatures, which makes it safer for people with cardiac issues. Exposing your body to these rays in a concentrated manner, eliminating the more harmful spectrum from the sun, can improve oxygenation of the cells, increase white blood cell production, and stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system which improves overall relaxation.2
The sauna experience for my RA symptoms
Here's what I experience when I use my sauna. When I first bought it, I was in intense pain and extreme swelling and I could barely walk. I would literally hobble in and walk out. These days I'm functioning much better, but the sauna consistently lowers my pain levels about two levels every session. I haven't experienced any change in my overall inflammation levels and the sauna doesn't impact my sleep to a large degree but it does relax me in a huge way.
Improvement in stiffness and overall well-being
I find it extremely helpful in the winter with stiffness and, although I can't prove this, I think it helps ward off colds if I use it consistently throughout the winter. I love my sauna sessions, and I love the way they make me feel. I also appreciated during the time when I was so ill, that my heart was able to get a workout, and my body was able to sweat, even when I was in too much pain to make this happen naturally.
During the time that my disease was so active, I had a hard time with keeping my weight up and I found that the sauna helped to stimulate my appetite. It definitely makes my skin glow! I haven't had any negative side effects whatsoever.
Try before your buy
I'd definitely recommend that you try before you buy, especially considering the upfront cost. Make sure that if you do purchase one to do your due diligence and buy from a reputable company. But I do think that if you join the far infrared sauna club, you won't regret it.
How realistic do you find RA commercials?