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Infrared Sauna for Back Pain

Back pain comes in many varieties, but the most pervasive one is probably low back pain. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke publishes a Low Back Pain Fact Sheet that makes for rather bleak reading: “About 80 percent of adults experience low back pain at some point in their lifetimes. It is the most common cause of job-related disability and a leading contributor to missed work days. In a large survey, more than a quarter of adults reported experiencing low back pain during the past 3 months.”

Unfortunately, back pain often hangs around longer than it should. Physiatrist Alex Simotas describes back pain as a vicious cycle. When the body perceives pain, it responds with “guarding reactions,” including muscle tension, restricted movement, anxiety, and even fear of movement. The tension, restrictions, and fear lead to muscle spasm, adrenalin, and nerve sensitivity, all of which promote intensification of the pain, which increases the guarding reactions. Lather, rinse, repeat. Pretty soon, you’re calling in sick.

Breaking the Pain Cycle

“For acute back pain,” according to the Mayo Clinic, “over-the-counter pain relievers and the use of heat might be all you need. Bed rest isn’t recommended.” If pain relievers and heat don’t work, you may need to move on to muscle relaxers, topical pain relievers, narcotics, antidepressants, or cortisone injections. If those things sound off-putting, there may be another option for breaking your pain cycle: infrared sauna.

Several projects by Japanese researchers have clinically proved the effectiveness of Waon therapy in relieving pain. In Waon therapy, the patient spends 15 minutes in an infrared sauna and then spends 30 minutes resting in a room at slightly above room temperature wrapped in a blanket up to the neck. In the study, treatments were given 2-5 times per week, and the researchers found that patients lost about half their pain after the first treatment, and their pain continued to lessen until it stabilized at 10 treatments. I have no experience with Waon therapy, but I suspect the sauna provides all or nearly all of the pain relief.

Heat, Rather than Drugs

My hypothesis is that the heat of the sauna has an effect similar to that of muscle relaxers, which are step two in the pain relief process after over-the-counter medications. The relaxation of the muscles interrupts the back pain cycle. Sauna, then, gives you the benefit of muscle relaxation without drugs. Furthermore, it doesn’t just relax your muscles. It relaxes you. I can see it in the faces of our clients exiting the sauna room after a session. There are few other experiences that can de-stress you like a sauna.

Low Risk Pain Reduction

We’re not a medical operation here at Peak Recovery & Health Center. But infrared sauna has been clinically proved to reduce low back pain. It has also been shown to be very low risk — unless you do it intoxicated, have an unstable heart condition, or don’t hydrate properly.

If you have low back pain and want to try infrared sauna and see for yourself whether it relieves your pain, book a few sessions. We have clients who come here regularly just to manage their back pain.