Is Sauna Good for Wound Care, Stitches, and Healing?

In a previous article, we discussed the benefits of saunas for scarring. Does that mean sauna bathing is also good for wound care, stitches, and healing?

An infrared sauna is the most beneficial for healing wounds. Infrared light deeply penetrates damaged tissue, expands collapsed capillaries, and stimulates anti-inflammatory cytokines, so nutrients are able to reach the injured site. Avoid using a steam room during any phase of wound healing, as added moisture is a breeding ground for infection. 

Keep reading to learn if the sauna can aid in healing wounds, if it’s able to be used post-surgery, and which type of sauna is most beneficial for healing skin injuries!

Can the sauna help heal wounds?

Sauna bathing is a form of heat therapy, which is a natural way to increase blood flow and heal the body from injuries. What are its impacts on wounds?

The sauna can help heal wounds by stimulating the production of new cells, signaling WBCs to travel to the site of injury, and regenerating damaged tissues. These processes help your body build back during the wound-healing phase.

A 2003 study done on rodents found that far-infrared ray exposure helped generate more collagen and increased the infiltration of fibroblasts in full-thickness skin wounds.

According to another study done in 2012, using the sauna, combined with bandages that contain NIR-emitting fabrics, can further hurry along the course of cut healing.

While sauna exposure alone does not always help with alleviating a wound, it can be an excellent part of a complete treatment.

Is heat good for wound healing?

Research has shown that temperature is one of the most critical factors when it comes to the progression of a wound.

Heat is good for a wound that is 2-3 days post-traumatic event (i.e., surgery or an accident). In fact, heating a wound can allow for otherwise compressed and damaged blood capillaries to expand and carry the necessary blood and nutrients to the injured area.

However, it’s never recommended to use heat or go in the sauna with an open wound. Doing so will increase bleeding and is an opportunity for infection to occur. Cold compress is usually the prescribed therapy immediately after an injury.

Are infrared rays good for wound healing?

Infrared rays have unique skin-layer penetration abilities. Can this be beneficial for wound healing?

Infrared rays are especially great for wound healing because they are able to promote tissue regeneration quickly, stimulate anti-inflammatory cytokines, and ramp up the cell renewal process.

A light therapy technology originally invented by NASA to stimulate plant growth in space is also found to have the ability to heal wounds. In a 2001 research study, near-infrared light-emitting diodes (LED) decreased wound size in rats by around 36% in conjunction with hyperbaric oxygen.

Perhaps even more significant, this light therapy resulted in a greater than 40% reduction in musculoskeletal training injuries and improved wound healing speed among crew members on a US Navy ship.

Is steam good for wound healing?

What about the effects of steam on a skin injury?

Steam should be avoided for at least 2 weeks (and sometimes longer) following an acute injury resulting in a wound. The reason for this is that moisture breeds bacteria and can cause an infection in a wound that has not fully closed.

Once your wound has finished the initial healing process, steam (in small doses and a clean environment) can be beneficial for helping your wound continue to mend.

Can you use a sauna after surgery?

While saunas are good for wounds when used appropriately, let’s talk about how to use them after surgery.

Generally speaking, you should always consult your doctor regarding using a sauna post-surgery. Each physician has a specific set of guidelines based on you, the type of surgery that was performed, and the size of your incision(s). It’s best to wait at least 24 hours following surgery to enter a sauna.

According to the most recent literature and recommendations, your wound should remain completely dry for the first day post-operation. After that, it’s up to your surgeon to advise whether or not using a sauna could be detrimental to your results.

A doctor’s top priority is helping their patients heal faster, and they are directly judged on their post-op protocol, as well as their infection ratings.

How soon after surgery can you use a sauna?

If you get surgery, when’s the quickest you can get back to a normal sauna schedule?

Overall, it’s recommended to wait 24 hours after surgery before attempting a sauna session. 

In fact, many post-operative instructions that are given to each patient specifically ban the use of saunas before that. It’s crucial that your wound doesn’t have any visible pus or drainage before you even consider stepping into the sauna.

Can you sit in a sauna with stitches?

Unfortunately, there isn’t great concrete data on this issue.

A 2003 study noted that surgery patients who went into the sauna with sutures versus those that did a session after their sutures were removed experienced the same degree of healing. Most physician post-surgery pamphlets, on the other hand, discourage patients from using a sauna with stitches in.

When in doubt, talk to your surgeon. Using your own sauna after surgery, and taking care to avoid contacting your incision, is likely fine, but using a filthy public sauna is probably a bad idea.

Should you use the sauna, infrared sauna, or steam room for healing wounds?

Based on what we’ve discussed so far, which is the best sauna to use for healing your wound?

If you have a skin wound, opt for an infrared sauna 2-3 days after the acute injury occurs. Infrared radiation has the ability to penetrate tissue layers deeply while using the lowest amount of heat, as not to irritate your cut. 

Traditional saunas can also be beneficial, but public steam saunas should be avoided altogether.

How to use the sauna for wound care and healing

Traditional saunas are dry enough to prevent infection in the early wound-healing stages and hot enough to be advantageous. What’s the best practice?

Steps to use a traditional sauna for wound care are:

  1. Ensure your wound is at least 24-hours post-surgery or 3 days old following an injury.
  2. You may take your bandages off, but don’t touch your wound.
  3. Opt for a private sauna over a public one.
  4. Stay inside for 10 minutes.
  5. Gently wash your wound, as instructed, after leaving.
  6. Re-apply new bandages.

Don’t use any irritating creams or soaps before or after a sauna session, as this can inhibit the healing of your wound.

Staying inside for longer than 10 minutes can have an undesirable effect and actually end up irritating your wound.

How to use the steam room for wound care and healing

If someone suffering from a wound wants to use a steam sauna, what should they do?

According to the research discussed earlier in this article, I would advise against using a steam sauna altogether during the wound healing process. Moisture, especially in a public environment, is a catalyst for bacterial growth and infection.

Steam saunas are more beneficial after your wound has closed and begun to heal.

How to use the infrared sauna for wound care and healing

Infrared light therapy has the distinctive ability to promote wound healing due to the fact that our cells’ mitochondria openly accept infrared rays. How can you put your infrared sauna to work?

Steps to use an infrared sauna for wound care are:

  1. Ensure your wound is at least 24-hours post-surgery or 3 days old following an injury.
  2. You may take your bandages off, but don’t touch your wound.
  3. Opt for a private sauna over a public one.
  4. Stay inside for up to 15 minutes.
  5. Gently wash your wound as instructed after leaving.
  6. Re-apply new bandages.

Infrared saunas heat your body internally first, so while less time is required inside to experience benefits, more time is able to be tolerated.

Use your best judgment when using the sauna to ensure that you and your wound are safe!

So, is spending time in the sauna good practice for wound care, stitches, and healing?

Infrared and traditional saunas are great options to speed up the wound healing process. However, steam saunas can be detrimental due to the increased levels of moisture (the perfect environment for bacteria) and should be avoided.

If you’ve recently had surgery or still have your stitches in, it’s best to consult your physician first before going into a sauna of any kind!