There are a lot of people in this world who suffer from chronic pain. If you don’t know what we’re talking about, you can start with a simple Google search to understand how devastating it can be. If that’s not your style, go watch the movie Cake starring Jennifer Aniston.
Now, there are different kinds of chronic pain and as a result, there are a variety of things those who suffer from these conditions can do for relief. Fibromyalgia which is an unfortunate one-of-a-kind condition also causes chronic pain and one of the things that works for those who suffer from this is to do short sessions in an infrared sauna.
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Fibromyalgia syndrome or FMS is defined as a chronic condition in which the patient suffers from a lot of pain in specific areas. Overall, it affects more than 3 million Americans every year. One of the problems with this condition is how often it is misunderstood. And it doesn’t help that it is not fully clear what causes it. But what it leads to is:
- Increase in menstrual cramps
- Decrease in resistance to pain in tender areas
- Chronic pain in muscles and bones
- Stress, anxiety and depression
- Muscle burn, twitching and tightness along with a sensation of burn in the muscles.
- General fatigue
- Lack of poor quality sleep
- Headaches and migraines
- Irritable bowel syndrome
It is also difficult to diagnose this condition because its symptoms are too broad and could be because of several other conditions. Hence, there are no tests to diagnose fibromyalgia and it is misdiagnosed quite often.
Today, we have better information and we know that even if it is tricky to treat this condition, therapy, medication and lifestyle changes can help manage it.
Thanks to progress in molecular biology, we have the ability to understand the benefits of repeated thermal therapy in patients of chronic pain. We know that warming the whole body mildly has sedative effects that can be used in many different contexts. Some sauna manufacturers also claim that some studies have shown that the effects of infrared (IR) sauna therapy are quite promising.
Those who participated in these studies have supposedly said that there is a good amount of decrease in the pain they felt after a session. What’s incredible is also that they were able to feel this relief with no side effects.
One such study showed that when 12 weeks of sauna therapy was combined with underwater exercises, pain due to fibromyalgia was significantly reduced. In fact, those who underwent this therapy reported six months later that their situation continued to improve.
This is not an easy decision to make. Because those who suffer from chronic pain or fatigue or fibromyalgia should know that their body might react well or adversely to an increase in body heat. For one, when your heart rate increases to a level that is akin to medium-level exercise, those who experience chronic fatigue could get into trouble.
However, reduced peripheral resistance, which means blood flows more easily through the blood vessels than usual, on the one hand and increased circulation on the other hand could prove to be helpful. It also leads to the consumption of more oxygen and an increase in the levels of stress hormone norepinephrine which is unhelpful if you have a pre-existing stress condition.
But here’s the good news. Heat therapy leads to relaxation in patients of fibromyalgia because of an increase in the levels of beta-endorphins, which help reduce pain, combined with the relaxation of muscles and an increase in the elasticity of tendons.
Now, when you expose your body to this kind of heat, your skin temperature rises and it increases the activity in the nervous system. The system responds by releasing pain-relieving and mood-elevating hormones. That’s essentially what doctors are trying to do with infrared saunas.
Those who suffer from chronic pain have higher levels of beta-endorphins. And like all endorphins, they act like morphine and target the opiate receptors in the brain. This is why your body releases beta-endorphins when you engage in rigorous physical activities like running.
The “high” that you experience after a workout session is the body’s response to rapid breathing and muscle stress. Patients of fibromyalgia feel the same high when they get into a sauna. Which is why it is looked at as a prospective alternate therapy for those who suffer from this particular condition.