Searching for Arthritis Relief? Find out How an Infrared Sauna Could Be the Answer
By: Your JNH Lifestylist
Have you heard that there’s a new way of treating chronic pain? People who suffer from chronic diseases that cause constant pain, such as arthritis, are always in search of new ways to deal with the unpleasant side-effect. After all, arthritis is debilitating and in some cases, completely incapacitating. Thankfully, different advances in technology have brought new therapies and techniques to treat various forms of arthritis and the pain associated; one that’s showing a lot of promise is infrared saunas.
What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic systemic autoimmune disease. What this means is that your immune system, which normally attacks foreign pathogens, doesn't recognize certain body tissues as your own, and starts attacking them. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system targets the lining of your joints, causing several symptoms, with pain being the most frequent . It can also damage other body parts, including the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, kidneys, bone marrow, nerve tissue and blood vessels. The symptoms of RA aren't always the same, and they can vary in severity. In severe cases, the disease affects the joints to the point of deformation . It’s more common in females and the onset can occur at any point in life but is most frequent between the ages of 30 and 50. Other risk factors for this disease are having a family history of RA, and smoking .
What Are The Symptoms Of Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Considering that RA affects the lining of your joints, most of the symptoms will be joint-related. Normally, joints are affected in a symmetrical fashion, which means that it’s the same on both sides of the body. Also, the small joints in the hands and feet are typically the most affected. The most common symptom is pain, which is described as throbbing and aching. It’s worse after long periods of inactivity, such as when you wake up in the morning. Another symptom found in patients with RA is swelling, which is also dependent on the duration of inactivity for the affect appendage. Sometimes, these patients can develop rheumatoid nodules, which are firm swellings that develop under the skin around affected joints .
Treatment and management
There are multiple ways to treat and control RA. The ideal treatment involves both drugs and lifestyle changes. Different types of drugs are involved in the treatment of RA, from those that reduce inflammation to others that slow down the progression of the disease. Like in many other chronic diseases, a healthy diet and regular exercise can help. In some cases, surgery may be an viable option to relieve symptoms . However, as previously stated, it’s hard to keep the disease at bay, since it can vary a lot on an individual basis. Flare-ups are unpredictable and patients are always looking for new ways to control the disease. Thankfully, there’s new hope with infrared saunas.
How Can Infrared Saunas Help?
It's all about the heat! For thousands of years, heat has been used as a treatment for musculoskeletal pain. This treatment has evolved from balneotherapy to traditional Finnish saunas and now, into the more sophisticated infrared saunas. These use infrared light to cause "whole-body hyperthermia," which means they increase your body's internal temperature. However, unlike traditional saunas which heat the surrounding air and create a stifling atmosphere; infrared saunas heats you directly with infrared waves, providing a much more bearable sauna session .
A study published in 2009 reported that infrared saunas have an immediate effect on rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, with a significant decrease in pain and stiffness with just one session. Patients who were exposed to this type of therapy also stated they felt more relieved after the sessions than during the treatment. After using infrared saunas for 4 weeks, clinical improvement in pain, stiffness and fatigue was achieved .
The reason behind these benefits is that heat helps relax your joints. In the case of arthritis, this is particularly helpful in the mornings, since patients tend to feel the most pain and stiffness when they wake up. Heat causes your blood vessels to dilate, which means they get bigger, and this allows more blood to reach your joints and muscles, bringing valuable oxygen and nutrients .
Just like in other autoimmune disorders, the problem with rheumatoid arthritis isn't localized in the joints. It’s a systemic problem, meaning it involves the entire body. Thus, certain triggers can affect the course of the disease, with stress being a big one. There’s a direct correlation between stress and disease progression, with flare-ups happening whenever patients are under significant stress. This is another regard where infrared saunas can help. These aren't just meant to heat up and relax your joints. They also have systemic effects, and reducing stress is one of them.
Infrared saunas offer many benefits that range from local pain relief to more systemic effects that can control RA and other relatable diseases. Thus, it’s a good option to integrate it into your regular arthritis treatment for the best results possible.
 Guo Qiang, Wang Yuxiang, Xu Dan, Nossent Johannes, Pavlos Nathan J, Xu Jiake. (2018) "Rheumatoid arthritis: pathological mechanisms and modern pharmacologic therapies." Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. National Center for Biotechnology Information, 27 April 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5920070/.
 "Rheumatoid arthritis." Mayoclinic.org, Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/rheumatoid-arthritis/symptoms-causes/syc-20353648.
 Wasserman Amy. (2011) "Diagnosis and Management of Rheumatoid Arthritis." Aafp.org, American Family Physician, 1 December 2011, https://www.aafp.org/afp/2011/1201/p1245.pdf.
 "Rheumatoid arthritis - Symptoms." Nhs.uk, National Health Service, https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/rheumatoid-arthritis/symptoms/.
 Smith Howard. "Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment & Management" Medscape.com, Medscape, https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/331715-treatment.
 Verhagen Arianne, Bierma-Zeinstra Sita, Boers Maarten, Rosa Cardoso Jefferson, Lambeck Johan, de Bie Rob, CW de Vet Henrica. (2004) "Balneotherapy for rheumatoid arthritis." Cochranelibrary.com, Cochrane Library, 26 January 2004, https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD000518/full.
 Oosterveld FG, Rasker JJ, Floors M, Landkroon R, van Rennes B, Zwijnenberg J, van de Laar MA, Koel GJ. (2009) "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 toward long-term beneficial effects." Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, National Center for Biotechnology Information, January 2009, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18685882.
 "Heat Therapy Helps Relax Stiff Joints" Arthritis.org, Arthritis Foundation, https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/healthy-living/managing-pain/pain-relief-solutions/heat-therapy-helps-relax-stiff-joints.