Fibromyalgia is a complex health condition that’s poorly understood by both science and medical professionals. Fortunately, more and more research emerges showing that (infrared) saunas can be beneficial for countering fibromyalgia symptoms.
In this blog post, I’ll summarise the currently available sauna science in relation to fibromyalgia. I also show that infrared saunas can be far more effective than commonly assumed, as the infrared sauna benefits very specifically relate to common fibromyalgia symptoms.
Let’s begin with understanding the health condition though:
What Is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia has long been considered a psycho-somatic health condition although the times are changing. Today, fibromyalgia is classified mainly as a chronic pain condition, whereby the nervous system gets overly sensitised (1; 2; 3).
Underlying inflammation, hormonal changes, and dysfunction in the immune system have been found to underlie fibromyalgia. The causes of the health condition can be varying, which include environmental causes, psychological stress, and genetics. Women have fibromyalgia twice as often as men.
Due to the complexity and non-uniformity of the condition, fibromyalgia is currently diagnosed by having pain in six out of nine pre-identified regions on the body for more than three months (4). Also, sleep problems and fatigue should be present for the same amount of time.
Different health interventions have varying scientific evidence supporting them for fibromyalgia. Meditation, hydrotherapy, acupuncture, and dancing have weak levels of evidence backing them, as do prescription medications such as antidepressants. For now, exercise therapy is most strongly supported - which gives a clue for the later topic of infrared saunas which I will consider.
Treatment for fibromyalgia is very much individualised though, as no universal treatment system exists that works for every person with fibromyalgia. In addition to pain, fibromyalgia is frequently paired with sleep problems and disorders, poorer mental health, fatigue, a lower pain threshold, and poorer cognitive performance.
Fortunately, an infrared sauna benefits fibromyalgia in all of these areas - so let’s explore that dynamic in more detail:
The Fibromyalgia And Infrared Sauna Connection In Science
In this section, I’ll explore the link between fibromyalgia and infrared saunas in detail. I’ll discuss several areas, such as direct research on fibromyalgia, saunas countering chronic pain, providing relaxation by countering stress and anxiety, and much more. Let’s begin with the basics:
Fibromyalgia Sauna Research
First of all, scientific studies exist researching the infrared sauna and fibromyalgia connection (5). Using far-infrared exposure only, study participants experienced their levels of chronic pain be lowered by half after just one session. Over time, these results were maintained by continuing the far infrared sauna sessions.
And, not only levels of pain experienced were reduced. Using a questionnaire specifically made for people with fibromyalgia, sleep disturbance, fatigue, daily functioning, and psychological well-being also all scored better on average in addition to lowering pain.
Other studies with similar setups - where thermal heating is used combined with infrared saunas and exercise - show similar outcomes (6). Because of the study setup, the results are harder to attribute to infrared saunas alone, although the previous study I quoted does make that outcome more likely.
Heating through spending time in hot water also shows significant improvements for people with fibromyalgia (7). Many people are unaware that infrared saunas are the most effective way to raise your core body temperature while giving you a very gentle experience at the same time though.
Countering (Chronic) Pain And Inflammation
Remember that fibromyalgia is closely intertwined with increases in chronic pain and inflammation. Fortunately, infrared saunas can be of benefit in relation to both fibromyalgia symptoms.
First of all, spending time in a sauna counters chronic pain across the board and in a very profound way (8; 9; 10; 11; 12). No matter whether you’ve got chronic lower back pain, tension headaches, rheumatoid arthritis, and much more. As a result, quality of life almost always improves as well.
The same is true for countering chronically elevated inflammation. Studies show that you can counter chronically elevated inflammation (13; 14; 15). In most of these studies, more frequent sauna sessions per week yield the best results. Also, keep in mind that it’s not inflammation that’s bad but chronically high inflammation.
Next up, let’s explore another frequent fibromyalgia issue:
Reducing Stress, Depression And Anxiety
Higher levels of psychological stress, depression and anxiety aren’t just an expected symptom of fibromyalgia - both may also play a causal role in the health condition (16; 17; 18; 19). Phrased differently, having higher stress and anxiety levels and qualifying for depression increases your fibromyalgia risk, and having fibromyalgia also makes you more susceptible to stress, anxiety, and depression.
So, how does infrared sauna help fibromyalgia symptoms? Simple:
First of all, saunas can counter anxiety and stress by allowing you to enter a zen-like state after spending 20-30 minutes inside them. Spending sufficient time inside a sauna so that your body is challenged by the heat allows for the release of natural opioids called “endorphins”. These endorphins are also responsible for the runner’s high, helping you calm down.
Additionally, infrared saunas are far more gentle on the human body than traditional saunas because they lead to similar or greater increases in your core body temperature without exposing you to intense heat.
You won’t have to worry about breathing in extremely hot air or having that extremely hot air touch your skin. Instead, the infrared light waves feel warm and relaxing but never overbearing.
Similar effects, moreover, have been found in the relationship between infrared saunas and depression. Simply because infrared saunas can lower your core body temperature to such a large degree, they can even resolve a clinical depression in just one session.
Hence, from the perspective of managing fibromyalgia symptoms such as anxiety and depression, infrared saunas are a godsend. Lastly, let’s consider a few other benefits that I haven’t covered yet - but in less detail than before:
Other Infrared Sauna Benefits
In this section, lastly, I’ll consider some of the sauna benefits for fibromyalgia in lesser detail than previously
- You’ll enhance your workout recovery, which is a helpful welcome for people affected by fibromyalgia. Keep in mind that developing an exercise routine is currently the best evidence-based intervention for countering fibromyalgia long-term. Quicker recovery ensures that you’ll be able to engage in more frequent exercise sessions, keeping fibromyalgia symptoms such as pain better at bay.
- Helping you sleep better. Again, sleep disturbances are one of the most common fibromyalgia symptoms, and increasing the amount of deep sleep you get each night is a huge benefit. In fact, 83% of people report better sleep after sauna use (20). Not only that, but people who have issues with their muscles and skeletal system and/or have problems with chronic pain report the most improvement from saunas.
- Although studies investigating the effects on fibromyalgia haven’t been carried out here, improvements from sauna therapy on joint stiffness can be found (21; 22; 23). Since fibromyalgia also causes joint stiffness in many, it’s plausible that saunas have an effect here as well.
Hence, if you have fibromyalgia, infrared saunas can almost certainly counter symptoms in many different ways, such as inhibiting joint stiffness, aiding sleep, and helping you recover quicker from workouts.
And now that I’ve given you a basic introduction to the science behind using infrared saunas for fibromyalgia, let’s conclude:
Conclusion: The Future Is Likely Bright
Don’t interpret my words as saying that a “far infrared sauna cures fibromyalgia”. Instead, the fibromyalgia infrared sauna benefits are more nuanced.
First of all, current research about fibromyalgia treatment infrared sauna is very promising in areas such as lowering pain and inflammation. Recall that (chronic) pain and inflammation are two primary symptoms of fibromyalgia.
Secondly, infrared saunas affect many other fibromyalgia symptoms as well even though no direct research is available. Examples here are sleep quality and recovery from workouts, for instance.
More research is needed in both of these areas. Given the fact that many people with fibromyalgia respond very positively to this intervention, more research in this area is certainly expected.
The future is thus very bright for people who have their lives inhibited by fibromyalgia…