Benefits of Using an Infrared Sauna for Shoulder Pain and Stiffness
If you’ve ever experienced a strain, rotator cuff tear, or an inflammation-induced pinched nerve with your shoulder, then you may recall how eager you were to have the injury heal — and quickly! The shoulder joint is unique in that it is a ball-and-socket joint, but one with many parts. It’s this high complexity that allows your shoulder joint to pivot (or “articulate”) in many different directions. Your shoulder is so complex it takes 9 muscles groups for it work correctly. The shoulder also sees four bones coming together to form the joint: the acromion, humerus, scapula, and clavicle.
You’ve probably picked up on what we’re getting at — there is a lot that can go wrong in a shoulder joint; tissues can become inflamed, nerves pinched, cartilage damaged, and muscles torn. While you could wait for the injury to heal, you likely want it to heal as quickly as possible so you can go about your life. This is especially true for athletes.
Before we go into the many benefits of using an infrared sauna for shoulder pain and stiffness, it’s important to note the many types of shoulder injuries that can lead to pain and stiffness.
Types of Shoulder Injuries
When we talk about shoulder pain and stiffness, medically, we are speaking of damage to the tendons, cartilage, ligaments, and or muscles found in and around the shoulder joint. Workers, weightlifters, and athletes should be mindful of any pain around the shoulder joint and remember that stiffness and soreness are signs that some type of injury is present. You should make every effort to reduce exertion during the healing process.
- Rotator cuff tears — These types of injuries are all-too-common among athletes and bodybuilders, who exert a great deal of repetitive force on the rotator cuff. The “cuff” is actually a collection of tendons and muscles surrounding the shoulder joint and allows the shoulder to function. Rotator cuff tears are usually sustained by pushing upwards repetitively (such as in a military press) or placing/removing heavy boxes above eye level. With a rotator cuff injury, you will experience a dull ache or pain, as well as muscle weakness or an inability to move your arm above your head or even reach behind your back.
- Impinged shoulder (rotator cuff tendinitis) — In this type of shoulder injury, you will often feel tenderness midway up the arm as a dull pain at the fore of the shoulder. You will most likely also feel stiffness or pain when lifting your arm. Like rotator cuff tears, most instances of rotator cuff tendinitis and impinged shoulders occur from sports activities, or work-related repetitive motions that see the arm raised above eye level.
- Shoulder dislocation — The shoulder may be the body’s most free-moving joint, but this feature also leaves it susceptible to injuries leading to dislocations and general instability. A dislocated shoulder is exactly what it sounds like; the bone of the upper arm becomes separated from its socket, resulting from a Bankart lesion or labrar tear. With a dislocated shoulder, you may experience some degree of numbness, tingling, and weakness in your shoulder. You may even have spasms, depending on the extent of the injury, or the pain you are experiencing.
- SLAP (superior labrum anterior and posterior) tears
— A SLAP-type of injury occurs from lifting objects about the head and is often difficult to identify without a diagnosis from a medical professional following an MRI of the area. With a SLAP tear, you may experience “grinding,” “popping,” or “locking sensations accompanied by pain when moving the arm or lifting heavy objects. If your injury does not heal on its own, it may require surgery to correct the tear.
- Shoulder stiffness — Sometimes referred to as “frozen shoulder,” the symptoms of shoulder stiffness (adhesive capsulitis) often appear slowly and continue to become worse over time. This type of shoulder injury is characterized by a painful, frozen, or stiff feeling at the point of the shoulder joint.
How Using an Infrared Sauna Can Help with Shoulder Stiffness and Pain
It’s important to note that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be used for the temporary treatment of shoulder pain, yet these do not get at the source of what is causing the shoulder pain and restricted movement you may be experiencing. Shoulder stiffness is often caused by increased inflammation at the shoulder joint. While this stiffness may not be accompanied by pain, you have to consider that this is only the beginning stage of a worsening condition.
Using an infrared sauna can help treat a number of shoulder injuries that lead to pain and stiffness, including dislocated shoulders, arthritic shoulders, rotator cuff tears, impinged shoulders, and frozen shoulder. The far-infrared light found in infrared saunas penetrates the surface of the skin, promoting increased circulation to the injured area. With more blood flowing to (and from) the site of the injury, inflammation is reduced, and the muscles, tendons, and connective tissues receive more nutrients that can be applied to the healing process.
Researchers have found that a 40-minute session in an infrared sauna can help reduce shoulder stiffness by 20%, on average. And, just a 20-minute session allowed for a .5% permanent increase in flexibility around the joint when combined with light stretching exercises immediately following their time in the infrared sauna.