Pain Relief with Infrared Heat

June 20, 2016 by Kara Willingham

When we experience body pain it can be incapacitating, distressing us mentally, physically and in some cases emotionally. Chronic pain affects millions worldwide and relief is much needed because aching body parts and muscles can prevent us from enjoying a mobile, healthy lifestyle. WebMD says that chronic pain can be caused by countless factors and this includes normal aging, nerve damage and injuries that fail to properly heal. Back pain alone affects 8 out of 10 people, which means that you or someone you know might be agonizing over their back as you’re reading this blog!

Exploration into infrared’s influence on pain relief indicates that during an infrared session, soothing heat penetrates the body to create therapeutic benefits through increased blood flow and tissue oxygenation. What does that do for the body? It promotes the energy generation that is needed for healing and it does this pretty fast! A study by Matsushita in 2008 found that chronic pain patients experienced nearly a 70% reduction in pain levels after just one infrared session. Yup, just one session and the pain that participants were experiencing also decreased significantly and remained low throughout the observation period.  

Let’s go in depth into a few ways that infrared heat can provide relief. We’re going to get pretty technical here so grab your thinking cap and let’s get science-y!

Increasing Blood Flow

During an infrared session blood flow can increase (Imamura) and this is important because blood brings oxygen and nutrients to tissues and cells. It’s also important because heating the muscles can produce an increased blood flow, level similar to that seen during exercise. When your body starts to “heat up” the temperature elevation can produce an amplified blood flow that acts directly on areas that are in a state of panic. (Lehmann)

iStock_000017255873_Small.jpgMusculoskeletal Improvements 

In chapters 9 and 10 of the text, Therapeutic Heat and Cold, 4th edition, editors Justus F. Lehmann, M.D., Williams, and Wilkin state that Infrared Heat Therapy can do the following.

Increase the extensibility of collagen tissue

If you’ve ever felt that regardless of how much you stretch, you still feel tight it could be because your tissue lacks extensibility which is essentially its capability of being stretched. This is different than flexibility because flexibility affects the entire muscle or tendon while extensibility deals directly with the individual fibers that make up those muscles and tendons. (Fleet Hartford)

So, what do we do? Feel the heat! When body tissues are heated to 45ºC or 113 ºF and then stretched they begin to exhibit a non-elastic residual elongation that persists after the stretch is removed. Research shows that this does not occur in these same tissues when they are not heated and repeated sessions can produce a 10 -18% increase in length of tissues that were heated and stretched. Therefore, exposure to infrared can assist with flexibility and tissue lengthening.

Infrared exposure can work on stiff and sore muscles to improve flexibility. Exposing the body to infrared heat can be especially valuable for those experiencing pain in the with ligaments, joint capsules, tendons and fascia. Fascia is the fibrous tissue that encompasses our muscles and other organs, very important for flexibility.  Experiments exhibited that low-force stretching could produce significant residual elongation when heat is applied together with stretching or range-of-motion exercises.

Relieve muscle spasms

After an injury, applying heat can provide soothing relief, infrared does this as well, but can be significantly more effective. Muscle spasms have long been observed to lessen through the use of heat, even when the spasms are secondary to underlying skeletal, joint or neuropathological conditions. Far infrared heat can be used to reset the nerves of the sensory system found within all muscles and tendons. It can also help tone down the muscle spasms to put you on the road to relief.

Inflammation, Arthritis and Fibromyalgia

Our bodies typically react well to infrared because we humans emit it, too. As it penetrates into the body infrared heat can reduce stiffness, pain and inflammation that are often caused by arthritis.  An article written by Clinical Rheumatology in 2009 references a study in which 17 patients with rheumatoid arthritis received 8 infrared treatments in 4 weeks. The patients noticed that there were no adverse effects and that their pain, stiffness and fatigue showed improvement.

Fibromyalgia is described as widespread pain with soreness in particular areas. A study of the efficacy of infrared heat for this condition, published in Internal Medicine Vol. 47 concludes that infrared is an effective treatment. Not only does the blood supply increase, but inflammation can also be reduced.

Quick muscle recovery – after regular workouts and exercises.  

A speedy recovery is crucial for athletes and exercisers alike. Heating injured muscles can produce an increased blood flow, similar to that seen during exercise. Infrared saturation can provide a doubling of the blood flow rate in your core, organs, arms and legs, also known as the periphery. This increased peripheral circulation can reduce inflammation, decrease pain and speed up healing – the important steps in helping the body recover from strenuous activity.  

The above listed findings point out that exposing the body to infrared heat can:

1) Extend enhanced cardiovascular activity post “workout”

2) Heal strained muscles after the exercise

3) Repair physical damage to the tissues and muscles


Talk about an effective yet holistic option! We have heard TONS of success stories from people who are able to cut down on pain medication, participate in activities they’ve been missing out on and more! If you are unsure about how infrared heat will affect the type of pain that you are experiencing it is best to consult with your doctor, especially if your injury is recent or you have yet to be treated for it.

 

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Sources:

Flickstein, Emeritus D.C., Dr. Aaron M. Fit Bodywrap® For Wellness White Papers. 1st ed. San Diego: FIT Bodywrap, 2014. Print.

"What Causes Chronic Pain?". WebMD. N.p., 2016. Web. 20 June 2016.

"Back Pain: Medlineplus". Nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2016. Web. 20 June 2016.

"Tissue Extensibility - Improve Your Stretching - Fleet Feet Sports West Hartford". Fleetfeethartford.com. N.p., 2016. Web. 20 June 2016.

Lehmann, Justus F. Therapeutic Heat And Cold. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins, 1990. Print.

Imamura, M., S. Biro, and T. Kihara. "Repeated Thermal Therapy Improves Impaired Vascular Endothelial Function In Patients With Coronary Risk Factors". ACC Current Journal Review 11.2 (2002): 32. Web.

Matsushita, Kakushi, Akinori Masuda, and Chuwa Tei. "Efficacy Of Waon Therapy For Fibromyalgia". Intern. Med. 47.16 (2008): 1473-1476. Web.

Oosterveld, Fredrikus G. J. et al. "Infrared Sauna In Patients With Rheumatoid Arthritis And Ankylosing Spondylitis". Clin Rheumatol 28.1 (2008): 29-34. Web.

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