The health benefits of saunas are many, with centuries of users confirming the advantages of heat for healing. There is constantly increasing research supporting sauna use. So is sauna good for inflammation?
By stimulating blood flow, relaxing muscles, eliminating toxins, and promoting endorphin release, sauna use can reduce chronic inflammation and decrease the pain associated with it. While sauna treatments should not be used for acute injuries, inflammation from chronic inflammatory conditions can be reduced with sauna therapy a few times each week.
Keep reading for more information on how saunas can help with inflammation, potential issues that might arise, and how saunas and steam rooms should be used if you have inflammatory health conditions.
Does the sauna help reduce inflammation?
Sure, sauna users claim that sauna bathing is good for inflammation along with a host of other health conditions. But what does the research say? Does the sauna actually help reduce inflammation?
Multiple research studies have found a strong impact of regular sauna bathing on inflammatory markers and symptoms. Not only do people feel better, but their numbers actually improve, indicating that the response to sauna use is not just psychological, but physiological as well.
A 2018 study in the European Journal of Epidemiology found that C-reactive protein, a marker of systemic inflammation, decreased significantly as the frequency of sauna bathing increased. Systemic inflammation measures had an inverse relationship with sauna bathing, meaning that inflammation markers went down as the frequency of sauna use went up. Given that C-reactive protein can help measure and predict risk for cardiovascular issues, the reduction in inflammation can also help in preventing heart disease.
Another study completed in 2018 and published in the Annals of Medicine had similar findings but within an 11-year longitudinal study. In those who completed 4-7 sauna sessions per week, inflammatory markers including CRP, fibrinogen, and leukocyte count were all significantly reduced compared with those who used the sauna just once a week.
Because sauna can be useful for reducing inflammation, specific diseases with inflammatory properties may be successfully treated using regular sauna bathing. A 2009 study in Clinical Rheumatology found positive effects of infrared sauna treatments for patients with rheumatoid arthritis or ankylosing spondylitis, without any adverse effects.
Inflammatory diseases that may benefit from sauna bathing include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Ankylosing spondylitis
- Sjogren’s syndrome
- Systemic lupus erythematosis
- Nonspecific increased inflammatory markers
While positive effects have been found within rheumatic diseases, other chronic pain conditions not involving inflammation, such as fibromyalgia, may be exacerbated by sauna treatments. So while in many cases pain may be reduced with sauna use, it is important to consult with your doctor to understand if you are experiencing inflammatory pain.
Is heat good for inflammation?
It is common knowledge that heat and ice are often used for the treatment of pain and injuries. If your pain is from inflammation, is heat a good treatment?
We have seen that whole-body heat can be helpful in reducing inflammation when systemic inflammatory diseases are involved. However, for inflammation from acute injuries, it is best to use ice.
Inflammation from injuries such as sprains, strains, and fractures should be treated with cold in the acute phase because it is essential to care for soft tissues; however, in the case of chronic inflammation, joint stiffness, and inflammatory diseases, heat is a great option.
Is steam good for inflammation?
If heat can help with inflammation, what about steam? Is steam good for treating inflammation?
Steam is often detrimental to those who suffer from the pain of chronic inflammation. High humidity, such as the moisture found in steam, usually exacerbates inflammation and the pain associated with it.
To determine the impacts of weather on inflammatory diseases, researchers conducted a study using self-reported pain sensations associated with changes in the weather over time. Generally, it was discovered that higher humidity was associated with greater pain and inflammation.
From this, we can deduce that steam is not beneficial for inflammation.
Does the sauna help reduce swelling?
When inflammation occurs, often swelling is visible, usually around the joints. Does the sauna help reduce swelling in addition to systemic inflammation?
As the heat from the sauna increases blood flow, allows muscles to relax, and clears toxins from the joint spaces, swelling will be reduced. People with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis report improved joint mobility after sauna treatment, indicating that swelling has gone down in those areas.
Again, if your swelling is caused by an acute injury, do not use heat for treatment. Use ice and consult with your doctor about further treatment.
Can saunas ever cause inflammation or make it worse?
Sauna treatment for inflammation sounds great! Are there any areas of concern?
Sauna treatment, if done correctly, should not have any adverse effects on inflammatory conditions or make inflammation worse. The risks are the same as for anyone who uses a sauna: overheating and dehydration. Use the sauna for treatments no longer than 30 minutes, and make sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after sauna bathing.
There is some limited information that says inflammation may worsen in the first day after sauna treatment, but the long-term effects should be positive. Again, pain and inflammation are likely to worsen if you attempt to use a sauna for non-inflammatory pain, such as nerve pain, or for treatment of acute injuries.
Should you use a sauna, infrared sauna, or steam room for inflammation?
According to existing research, it is clear that not all heat treatments are equal when it comes to reducing inflammation.
You should only use traditional dry saunas or infrared saunas for inflammation. Infrared saunas are best because they cause heat to penetrate below the skin into soft tissue. Remember, humidity increases inflammation and joint pain, so steam rooms should be avoided, and you should never use heat to treat an acute injury.
Here are some guidelines on how to use a traditional dry sauna or infrared sauna for inflammation, and what to do about steam rooms.
How to use the traditional dry sauna for inflammation
If you have access to a traditional dry sauna, you can use it to treat inflammation and any pain associated with it, following a consistent schedule.
Follow these tips to use a traditional dry sauna for inflammation:
- Hydrate before entering, during your session, and after sauna bathing
- Visit the sauna at least 2-3 times each week
- Spend up to 30 minutes sauna bathing
- Keep the temperature high and the moisture low – don’t add water to any heated rocks
Remember that you may feel a bit uncomfortable the day after your first session, but the benefits will grow over time.
How to use an infrared sauna for inflammation
Since infected saunas heat the skin directly, you can use them for shorter periods of time and reap the same benefits or greater than a traditional sauna.
Follow these tips to use an infrared sauna for inflammation:
- Hydrate well before, during, and after using the sauna
- Visit the sauna at least 2-3 times each week
- Spend 15-20 minutes in the sauna each session
As mentioned above, infrared sauna use and inflammation have an inverse relationship, so more sessions will be more helpful. Try to visit 4-5 times a week if you can!
How to use a steam room for inflammation
The high humidity of a steam room is bound to increase inflammation and exacerbate pain.
Avoid using steam rooms for the treatment of inflammation. Stay away from them entirely if you have inflammatory diseases.
If you want to reap the benefits of heat on inflammation, use a traditional dry sauna or infrared sauna instead of a steam room.
Always consult with your physician before treating any illness or injury in a sauna.