4. Chronic Pain & Fatigue
Jan 08, 2020
As anyone who has suffered from chronic pain knows, it can have a massive knock-on effect on mental health and overall mood. It can, in many cases, cause depression and fatigue, and over time has the potential to significantly impact your overall health and wellbeing. Then, of course, there are the direct effects of the conditions themselves; any chronic pain, whether it is sharp or dull, burning or aching can make life extremely difficult – as too can any kind of chronic fatigue.
Sauna baths have been found to be a safe and effective treatment for pain caused by many different medical conditions. Whilst we cannot list all the conditions here, it should be noted that sauna bathing has been used to relieve pain in various musculoskeletal and rheumatic disorders including arthritis and fibromyalgia, as well as more general problems such as back pain, chronic tension headaches, and generalised chronic pain [1-4]. In the case of arthritis, the sauna can have the unusual effect of causing pain to increase the day after sauna bathing. However, this problem was found to be easily prevented by having a cool shower immediately after bathing (something that is recommended in sauna use regardless).
As to how sauna is capable of these effects regarding chronic pain, it is believed that the sauna’s heat creates a sedative effect that is mediated through sensory nerves. This, when combined with a cold plunge or cold shower, results in a natural analgesic that also serves to enhance immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory function and increase endorphin levels .
Considered to be a long-term illness with a wide range of symptoms (the most common of which being extreme tiredness), chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) – also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis – can be an extremely disabling condition with the potential to affect anyone at any time.
However, studies conducted to look specifically at the impact of sauna and heat therapy on the condition have found consistently promising results regarding its effectiveness as a treatment for fatigue. In 2005, one study found a dramatic improvement in patients with CFS who had found minimal relieve from previous medical intervention. Following the implementation of heat therapy as a treatment, patients found that their symptoms had vastly diminished, the prednisolone (PSL) medication they had been taking for 3-5 years was no longer required, and there was no relapse or exacerbation of symptoms in the following year . Since then, several independent studies have also found similar results regarding CFS [6-8].
These results are not caused solely by saunas positive impacts on sleep although an improvement in mental symptoms in patients suffering from CFS have been attributed to the sleep-enhancing effects of sauna . When the entire body is warmed, sedative effects are exhibited by the body via the sensory nerve endings. Capillary dilation is promoted whilst muscular spasms related to tonic muscle contraction and pain are also relieved. Overall, this leads to significant improvement in many (if not all) CFS symptoms .
 Kukkonen-Harjula, K and Kauppinen, K (2006) ‘Health effects and risks of sauna bathing’ International Journal of Circumpolar Health 65(3) pp. 195-205. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3402/ijch.v65i3.18102
 Laukkanen, T; Laukkanen, J; Kunutsor, S (2018) ‘Cardiovascular and other health benefits of sauna bathing: a review of the evidence’ Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 93(8) pp. 1111-1121. Available at: https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(18)30275-1/fulltext
 Hussain, J; Greaves, R; and Cohen, M (2019) ‘A hot topic for health: Results of the Global Sauna Survey’ Complementary Therapies in Medicine (44) pp. 223-234. Available at: https://www-sciencedirect-com.ezphost.dur.ac.uk/science/article/pii/S0965229919300998?via%3Dihub
 Masuda, A et al (2005) ‘The effects of repeated thermal therapy for patients with chronic pain’ Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics (74) pp. 288-294. Available at: http://waon-therapy.com/pdf/archivement/english/en_2005_01.pdf
 Masuda, A et al (2005) ‘The effects of repeated thermal therapy for two patients with chronic fatigue syndrome’ 58(4) pp. 383-387. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022399904006452
 Amano, K; Yanagihori, R; Tei, C (2015) ‘Waon therapy is effective as the treatment of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/ chronic fatigue syndrome’ The Journal of the Japanese Society of Balneology, Climatology, and Physical Medicine 78(3) pp. 284-302. Available at: http://www.waon-therapy.com/pdf/archivement/english/en_2015_02.pdf
 Soejima, Y et al (2015) ‘Effects of Waon therapy on chronic fatigue syndrome: a pilot study’ Internal Medicine 54(3) pp. 333-338. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25748743
 Oosterveld, FG et al (2009) ‘Infrared sauna in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. A pilot study showing good tolerance, short-term improvement of pain and stiffness, and a trend towards long-term beneficial effects’ Clinical Rheumatology 28(1) pp. 29–34. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18685882