*Disclaimer: The written article is based on a summary of existing literature on the topic of infrared saunas. The article is for educational purposes and the information provided below cannot be taken as a promise to help with acute health problems or diseases. XX scientific references back the claims in the article. All references are numbered. You can access the text of the reference by clicking on the number.
Welcome to my blog post about the health benefits of saunas for joint pain. I’ll specifically look at how long you should use a sauna for pain. Different types of pain will be included, such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and back pain.
I’ve written several blog posts about saunas and pain in the past, such as:
Today I’ll also cover these topic in some detail but the most important topic I’ll consider is how long you should use a sauna for different types of pains, such as joint pain. If you’re short on time or just want to learn the essentials, I’ve added a summary below:
How Long To Use A Sauna For Rheumatoid Arthritis And Osteoarthritis
How long you should sauna for rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis? Studies show that 15-30 minutes per day, 2-3 times per week offer great results for these purposes.
For other types of pain as well, such as fibromyalgia, 15-30 minutes per day twice per week is sufficient.
Other research that investigates the effects of saunas on inflammation shows the best results with four weekly sessions of 30 minutes or more. That inflammation is often not only intertwined with different types of pain, such as chronic lower back pain or osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, but also other health conditions. So you’ll want to avoid having chronically elevated inflammation levels.
Overall, therefore, for pain, I recommend four weekly sauna sessions of 30 minutes in an infrared sauna. And if you’ve got any chronic health conditions, consult with your physician first. Also, in that case, build up your exposure gradually as you might have decreased heat tolerance.
Over time, 30 minutes four times weekly yields superior results for different types of joint pain and chronic pain types. And to multiply the results you get, add a Red Light Therapy Tower to your sauna and use it while you’re using that sauna - it will multiply the pain-lowering and disability-inhibiting effects you’re getting.
Pain 101: Chronic Pain, Osteoarthritis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Back Pain, And More
Chronic pain is a huge problem globally, affecting more people than heart disease, diabetes, and cancer combined (1; 2; 3; 4; 5). In the United Kingdom too, chronic pain is a big problem affecting millions (6; 7: 8; 9). Worldwide, more than an inconceivable 30% of people are affected by chronic pain. Chronic pain is defined as pain that’s present after three months even though the original cause of the pain has already healed.
Lower back pain and pain in the limbs are two of the most common chronic pain types. Chronic pain also tends to strongly affect quality of life because as the name already implies, the pain is present continually. Anxiety and depression is frequently present and the pain can even lead some to commit suicide as well, unfortunately.
Also, the more other health conditions you tend to have - such as heart disease or diabetes - the greater the likelihood that you’ll have chronic pain as well. The pain then generally tends to be worse as well.
Both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are two common sources of chronic pain (10; 11; 12; 13; 14; 15). Both regular sensations and pain processes are often disrupted in people with these conditions. Up to 50% of people with rheumatoid arthritis have chronic pain, for instance, and 90% of people with the condition will visit a doctor for that reason. Osteoarthritis is now the leading cause for chronic pain in older adults.
The risk of both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis goes up as you age. Young people are rarely affected by them, as well as by chronic pain. Nevertheless, these types of pain are also the leading cause of disability in society. So, not only does the quality of life of many people go down because of (almost) continuous pain sensations, their ability to move or hold a job is also negatively impaired.
But arthritis is not the least of the problems. Lower back pain and neck pain are other health issues that affect people in their 20s and 30s. And, these lower back and neck pain problems cause lots of disability and absenteeism from work as well.
Pharmacological solutions may work though but almost never long-term. Side effects are the biggest long-term problem with these pharmaceuticals even though they’ll give wonderful short-term relief. Pharmaceuticals are promoted through marketing budgets that run into the billions and are sometimes addictive. Many people in the United Kingdom might also not have sufficient access to psychologists or physical therapists to really help them with their chronic pain.
Chronic pain or joint pain also cause a negative feedback loop frequently. For instance, with pain you’ll sleep more poorly. And with poor sleep, the pain will be worse, both physiologically and psychologically. So the more you can inhibit pain, the better life generally becomes for people with joint problems and/or chronic pain.
So that’s where saunas come in today. I’ll take you by the hand and lead you through the science on using a sauna for osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, back and neck pain, and so forth. I’ll not only focus on pain but also on how a sauna can increase your functionality despite the pain.
Merely reducing disability already confers a huge advantage upon you because you can more easily participate in society. So let’s being with the beginning:
Saunas For Different Types Of Joint Problems: Osteoarthritis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Back And Neck Pain, And More
Below I’ll consider how long you should sauna for different types of joint pain conditions. I’ll also talk about what studies say about the ability of saunas to improve your functional capacity - such as your joint range of motion or the muscle strength around that joint.
Saunas And Osteoarthritis 101. And How Long Should You Sauna For Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disorder of the joint (16; 17; 18). The cartilage of the bone is lost and disability is often the result. How debilitation the condition is varies widely though, as you can have joint problems without much pain or symptoms, or, alternatively, you might have lots of pain and loss of functionality with very little objective degeneration.
Fortunately, saunas can help with osteoarthritis (19; 20; 21). Infrared light is especially helpful here. The infrared light doesn’t just heat up your body. Instead, the infrared light (or heat) penetrates into your body and affects you at the cellular level.
People with osteoarthritis report lower overall pain levels in their daily lives when they integrate a sauna into their routine. That pain is subjectively measured with a “Visual Analogue Scale” (VAS). That VAS scale measures pain between 1 and 10, with 1 signifying “no pain” and 10 the “worst possible pain”.
People with osteoarthritis who use a sauna tend to have statistically significant lower VAS than those who don’t.
Overall, heat seems to help people with osteoarthritis well. Studies show that other “spa therapies”, such as hot showers, mud and mineral baths, and exercises in hot water tend to improve the condition.
For the best results for osteoarthritis, I recommend spending 30 minutes a day three times weekly in an infrared sauna. If you’ve got other health conditions, talk to your physician and work up to those 30 minutes slowly.
Saunas And Rheumatoid Arthritis 101. And How Long Should You Sauna For Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis isn’t just a joint condition but an autoimmune condition that influences the health of the joint (22; 23; 24; 25). Systemic inflammation plays a major role in rheumatoid arthritis. That inflammation, in turn, is intertwined with swelling, pain, and stiffness in the joints.
The condition normally starts with the smallest joints in the hands and feet and then progresses towards the bigger joints. If you don’t treat the condition, the entire joints can be damaged extremely badly. Disability is then the result. Fortunately, this is where infrared saunas come in.
Lots of studies exist on rheumatoid arthritis, saunas, and other forms of heat therapy (26; 27; 28; 29; 30; 31). Two infrared sauna sessions per week can already give massive results for people with rheumatoid arthritis. Over a period of eight treatments in the course of a month, stiffness and pain will be reduced significantly.
Also, no adverse effects occur after infrared sauna session treatments. Fatigue is also reduced. Overall, these results imply that there are huge reductions in overall disability when using an infrared sauna for rheumatoid arthritis. Why? Simple: if you can reduce both fatigue, pain, and stiffness, it means that you’re much more able to perform better in daily life.
Other studies confirm the reduction in pain in rheumatoid arthritis after sauna bathing. People with rheumatoid arthritis often start moving more, creating a positive feedback loop between more movement, less pain, which then results in more movement and less disability again.
You may ask: “So how long should I sauna for rheumatoid arthritis?” I believe the study setup I covered above is the minimum you should engage in, but three sessions per week often gives people of varying conditions (heart health, dementia, etc) better results. So I recommend two to three weekly sauna sessions using an infrared sauna specifically for rheumatoid arthritis, lasting 30 minutes per session.
GET OUR FREE EBOOK
8 tips to get the most out of your Infrared Sauna
Discover proven ways to supercharge your infrared sauna experience.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Saunas And Lower Back Pain 101. And How Long Should You Sauna For Lower Back Pain?
Most people have lower back pain at some time in their lives. But you get into trouble once the lower back pain becomes chronic (32; 33; 34; 35; 36). Most lower back pain isn’t just physical in nature but has a large psycho-social component as well.
And, lower back pain, as you can’t move nor sit well anymore, also has huge societal consequences due to disability. Lower back pain also has a significant effect on quality of life. Most people with lower back pain, moreover, don’t know how to effectively deal with the condition because of false beliefs. One such belief is that they should rest and not burden the lower back too much, which leads to disastrous results long term. The reason is that it’s the lack of movement causing problems, not an excess of movement.
Once more, saunas are an excellent for this type of joint pain. The reason is simple: you can alleviate pain in a very controlled, safe environment. That’s of great help as at any moment, 10-30% of people suffer from lower back pain in developed nations. Fortunately, many studies have investigated the effects of saunas on lower back pain and found positive results (37; 38; 39; 40; 41).
Surveys also show that pain relief is one of the three main reasons people visit a sauna. Socialising and stress-relief are the two other main reasons. So overall, people tend to report less pain after spending time inside a sauna. That’s not weird as the body activates the internal opioid system when you’re heating your body significantly inside a sauna (42; 43; 44; 45). So-called “endorphins” are released, which lower pain and make you feel relaxed.
But back to back pain. One study showed that twice daily sauna sessions had great effects on both pain and disability within a mere week (37). Disability scores even decreased by a whopping 33% within a mere week of sauna treatment, which is very hopeful. In that study setup, a dry sauna at 90 degrees Celsius was used for 15-minute sessions.
As an infrared sauna is far gentler on the body - you’re not breathing very hot air for instance and your head isn’t heated if you’ve got a quality infrared sauna - you can almost certainly do one daily 30-minute infrared sauna session.
So the question of how long should you sauna for lower back pain can be answered by 30 minutes per day, five days a week.
Other studies also show that saunas aid flexibility and even muscular strength in lower back pain. A study investigating the effects of near infrared light found that the pain levels of people who had chronic back pain for six hears halved after seven weeks (41). That results is extremely impressive as a long-lasting problem might have been fully averted by just wearing a near infrared emitting belt on the lower back daily.
Saunas And Neck Pain. How Long Should You Sauna For Neck Pain?
Neck pain, moreover, can be envisioned as a specific form of back pain because of the central role the spine plays therein (46; 47; 48; 49). There’s no easy answer here though as there are no studies directly investigating the effects of saunas on neck pain. It is extremely likely that saunas help in this case though, as saunas have huge effects on different types of pain, such as lower back pain, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
But to be absolutely sure that saunas work for neck pain, we’d like to see some direct research. Until then, we simply recommend using an infrared sauna three times per week for 30 minutes.
Next up, a topic where lots of evidence does exist:
Saunas And Fibromyalgia 101. And How Long Should You Sauna For Neck Pain?
Fibromyalgia is a disorder in which pain is disregulated (50; 51: 52). For long, scientists believed that the health condition was strictly psychological in nature or perhaps an instance in which the nervous system went haywire. Today, more genetic and epigenetic evidence has surfaced that the condition does really exist. Fibromyalgia is characterised by musculoskeletal pain across the body.
And it turns out that saunas can be extremely helpful in the case of fibromyalgia (53; 54; 55; 56). In one study, people with fibromyalgia combined saunas three times per week with water exercise therapy twice per week. Over a period of 12 weeks, the study participants reduced their symptoms 31-77%, as measured by a questionnaire. Over time, many of these results lasted as well.
Other studies with far infrared light show huge reductions in pain, of 11-70%, after just one far infrared sauna session. The sessions lasted 15 minutes. Over time, many of these benefits are maintained, even if study participants no longer use the sauna. For the best results, of course, it’s better to maintain a sauna habit and reap even more rewards for fibromyalgia.
So how long should you sauna for fibromyalgia? I recommend using a far infrared sauna two to three times per week for 15 minutes. If you recover well from your sauna sessions - and don’t increase your pain much after a session - then you can slowly work up to three weekly sessions of 30 minutes.
With fibromyalgia, however, it’s always important to let your symptoms be the guide to how much stress you’re putting on your body with a sauna. Many people with fibromyalgia have lower stress tolerance than people without, and should therefore take it easy and build up their sauna routine slowly.
Next up, let’s look at one more form of pain:
Saunas And Neuropathic Pain 101. And How Long Should You Sauna For Neuropathic Pain?
I’ll shortly consider neuropathic pain here, even though it’s not a joint pain technically: Sauna studies do show promising improvements in people with neuropathic pain (57; 58). In neuropathic pain, the peripheral nervous system outside the spinal column is affected. Often, there are altered sensations or a presence of pain without a good reason.
Infrared light may even stimulate quicker nerve regeneration. Pain levels and the pain threshold in people with neuropathic pain may also be influenced positively. So overall, saunas can influence many different types of pain. People’s general perception that sauna help them deal with pain, moreover, therefore seems to be scientifically-validated.
Next up, let’s consider an area that affects almost all of the pain types I’ve described above - inflammation:
Does An Infrared Sauna Help With Inflammation?
Some inflammation is natural and even necessary for your biology to work properly. Often though, many people have chronic inflammation that’s elevated beyond natural levels in modern society (59; 60; 61; 62: 63). And those chronically-elevated inflammation levels are intertwined with many problems, such as a dysfunctional immune system, higher disease risk, and more.
In the simplest terms, inflammation is part of the body’s defence mechanism. That defence mechanism can go haywire which then results in chronic inflammation. Normally, as a result of a wound, inflammation should last a few days to a few weeks. But many people today have chronic inflammation for months, years, and even decades.
Lifestyle changes can often have a massive impact on your inflammation levels. Weight loss, fasting, eating a healthy diet, proper sleep hygiene, no drinking or smoking, all affect inflammation levels and can prevent chronic inflammation. The same is true for spending time in a sauna - I’ll explore that dynamic now:
Quite a few extremely high-quality studies have come out on saunas and inflammation the last few years (64; 65; 66; 67; 68). It turns out that more weekly sauna sessions are highly protective against excess inflammation and chronic inflammation.
When measuring C-creative protein in the blood - arguably one of the most important biomarkers for inflammation - then levels trend down the more frequently you use a sauna. For instance, when researchers followed a group of participants over many decades, those who used the sauna two to three times per week had about 20% lower C-reactive protein levels. And those who used the sauna four times per week or more had 40% lower C-reactive protein levels.
That’s great news as you want C-reactive protein to be very low over the long time, for the best anti-ageing benefits as well as lower disease risk. In general, C-reactive protein levels are often associated with pain sensitisation and with chronic pain itself (69; 70; 71; 72: 73). People with genetically higher C-creative protein levels tend to have more lower back pain, widespread pain across the body, and neck pain.
If infrared saunas thus lower your C-reactive protein levels massively over time, that’s a huge potential gain for your health and risk of having excess pain. Also, other studies show that saunas are protective against high inflammation levels, if and only if you use a sauna frequently. In other words, inflammation does less harm when with a high weekly sauna frequency.
Also, the inflammation-lowering effects of saunas do have real-world consequences upon disease risk, for instance. Simply put, your risk of both chronic and acute diseases will go down once saunas lower your overall inflammation levels.
Lastly, there’s one more topic I need to talk to you about that can increase the results you get from a sauna for joint pain and pain in general even further:
Adding Red Light Therapy And Near Infrared Light Therapy To Your Sauna To Upgrade Its Results Dramatically
These full-spectrum saunas are equipped with heaters that emit a combination of near infrared, middle infrared, and far infrared. I want to specifically zoom in on the near infrared right now and consider its benefits for joint pain and other pain types.
Next to full-spectrum heater, you can also add a Red Light Therapy Tower to any sauna we sell. That red light therapy tower then offers you a second form of therapy inside your sauna that can simultaneously be used with the infrared.
Red light therapy emits both red and near infrared light. Let’s explore the benefits of red and near infrared light for different types of joint pain and other pain types:
Impedes rheumatoid arthritis while lowering pain (74; 75: 76; 77). Quality of life improves for people with rheumatoid arthritis as well as the ability to move. The red and near infrared light influence the immune system and inflammation in a very positive way. In some studies, subjectively reported pain levels for people with rheumatoid arthritis are reduced by up to 70% with just one 30-minute session. Very few side effects are also found, and none of these side effects are serious.
Lowers pain and reduces disability in osteoarthritis (78; 79; 80; 81: 82). Mostly the knee is studied here, which is affected most frequently. Overall function also increases and stiffness of the joint is decreased. In many studies significant results are accomplished in just two weeks of multiple sessions per week. For the best results, you will have to keep exposing your body and joints to the red and near infrared over time though, just like a sauna or exercise routine works best with long-term usage and not incidentally.
Works amazingly against different types of chronic pain, such as chronic lower back pain that doesn’t have a specific cause (83; 84; 85; 86; 87; 88; 89). Pain severity almost universally goes down in many studies, while disability decreases, range of motion of the joints increase, and quality of life improves.
The red light therapy affects your body’s physiology at many different levels. For instance, energy-production is increased at the cellular level, circulation improves, the blood is irradiated with the light, and damaging compounds such as “free radicals” are cleaned up. How exactly red light therapy works I wont’ go into deeply right now.
What’s most important is that red light therapy’s effects are very impressive for joint pain and other types of chronic pain. And, with the Red Light Therapy Tower you can simply get a treatment inside your sauna so that you double the anti-pain benefits that you’re getting.
Red light therapy works for other types of pain as well that I haven’t included here, such as muscle injuries or neck pain. And, if you don’t want a Red Light Therapy Tower you can also opt for full-spectrum heaters that have very similar effects because they emit near infrared as well.