How Sauna Bathing Accelerates Healing and Recovery

How Sauna Bathing Accelerates Healing and Recovery

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Sauna are not new, they’ve been around for centuries, offering a sanctuary of warmth from the cold and escape from the stress of life. Besides relaxation and stress relief, saunas offer many health benefits and we’ve covered most of them extensively on our eSteamed Saunas blog. But now with modern innovation, the draw of sauna bathing has been brought straight to your doorstep with sauna kits for your home and backyard becoming very popular.  This allows individuals to combine the practice of stress relief and relaxation with the modern-day pursuit of wellness right in the comfort of their own home (or yard). Through these at-home sauna kits, the profound health benefits of sauna bathing are now accessible to many, paving the way for enhanced healing and recovery.

The Science of Heat Therapy

The practice of heat therapy is also ancient, tracing back to the healing power of warm baths in natural hot springs (which we also love!).  Fast forward to today, the body's responses to heat therapy have been meticulously studied, revealing a massive spectrum of health benefits. When the body is exposed to high temperatures (like in a sauna or otherwise), blood flow is significantly increased. This boosted circulation delivers more oxygen and essential nutrients to muscles and joints, aiding the healing process.

Exposure to heat also induces a beneficial immune response, triggering the production of white blood cells and antibodies, which play a crucial role in fighting off viruses, infections, and even assisting in injury recovery. This sauna heat is also conducive to cellular repair, encouraging the body to initiate repairing damaged cells and tissues, promoting faster healing.

But wait, there’s more! Sauna bathing activates the release of heat shock proteins (HSPs), which play a critical role in protecting cells from stress and are involved in cellular repair mechanisms.  Isn’t it amazing that our body's are able to harness this heat for healing like this? It’s a testament to our intricate and adaptable nature, offering a natural avenue to expedite recovery and promote overall well-being.

Is Healing and Recovery Enhanced by Sauna Bathing?

After personally reviewing dozens of scientific studies and observations, it's abundantly evident that sauna bathing significantly impacts the healing and recovery process, particularly relevant to muscle, joint, and tendon recovery, and even soft tissue healing.

Muscle Recovery: Sauna bathing has been found to reduce muscle soreness and improve recovery time by enhancing circulation and reducing inflammation. These effects are beneficial in speeding up the healing process and improving overall muscle recovery. Here are some muscle recovery facts we’ve extracted for you:

  • Consistent sauna use can lead to a significant elevation in growth hormone levels—up to 200-300% following a single sauna session—which aids in decreasing muscle atrophy and improving strength training outcomes. 200% - 300%!? That’s insanity.
  • Sauna bathing can increase run time to exhaustion by 32% in male distance runners post-exercise, highlighting its positive impact on endurance and recovery​ [1]​. Increasing endurance by 32% by sitting in a relaxing sauna? Yes, please! 
  • Studies have also indicated plasma volume expansion in athletes after daily post-exercise sauna bathing for four days, showcasing the sauna's role in hormetic stress responses which are crucial for muscle recovery​ [2]​. What is hormetic stress? This just refers to the physiological phenomenon where something that seems stressful, toxic or even lethal in large doses (fasting, exercise, heat exposure) offers a beneficial effect in smaller doses (improved health, stress tolerance, growth or longevity). Your body responds to this external stress and improves itself as a result to prepare for a future need for defense.
  • When examining the effects of infrared sauna bathing shows promising results concerning recovery from strength training sessions​ [3​]. 
  • Sauna bathing induces sedative and relaxing effects that might contribute to the reduced deficit in muscle strength post-exercise, further promoting muscle recovery [​4​].

Joint Recovery: Sauna heat can alleviate joint pain through various means including reducing inflammation, increasing circulation, releasing endorphins, relaxing muscles, and removing metabolic waste. 

A study conducted in 1988 demonstrated that over 50% of patients with rheumatic diseases found sauna bathing to lessen pain and improve joint mobility ​[5]​. 

Soft Tissue Healing: While the search did not yield direct references to scientific studies on sauna bathing's effect on soft tissue healing, the aforementioned benefits such as improved circulation, reduced inflammation, and enhanced cellular repair processes are likely to contribute positively to soft tissue healing as well.

The marriage of these effects demonstrates the multifaceted benefits of sauna bathing in fostering a conducive environment for healing and recovery, thereby making a compelling case for its inclusion in recovery regimens.

How Saunas Affect Circulation, Cardiovascular Benefits, and the Immune System

Sauna bathing has proven to improve your blood circulation, which is a cornerstone for accelerated healing. Heat exposure dilates your blood vessels, promoting better blood flow (which carries oxygen and essential nutrients to various body parts), which are directed to injured tissues, among other areas. When your circulation is improved in this way, it also can aid in the removal of waste products from the body. Aside from circulation, sauna bathing exhibits notable cardiovascular benefits. The heart rate increases in response to the heat, mimicking the effects of moderate exercise. This cardiovascular “exercise”, even though it’s passive, can enhance cardio performance over time, indirectly supporting the body’s recovery processes.

Your immune system also receives a significant boost from sauna bathing. The heat stimulates the production of white blood cells and other immune cells, which are in combat against infections while aiding tissue repair. Additionally, sauna sessions facilitate the elimination of toxins through sweating, creating a cleaner internal environment for the body to carry out its healing and recovery processes. The synergistic effect of enhanced circulation, cardiovascular conditioning, and an invigorated immune system work in tandem to accelerate healing and recover effectively from injuries or stressors.

Hormonal Responses, Pain Relief, and Relaxation

Sauna bathing ushers in a myriad of hormonal responses that are cardinal to the healing and recovery narrative. Among them are growth hormones (GH), which are pivotal to tissue repair and regeneration. The heat exposure can significantly elevate the levels of GH, thereby fostering a conducive environment for tissue repair. This hormonal surge is particularly beneficial after exercising or following an injury, as it accelerates the body’s natural healing processes. Additionally, the release of heat shock proteins (HSPs) is stimulated during sauna bathing. These proteins are used in cellular protection and repair, mitigating damage and promoting recovery at a cellular level.

Let’s talk about pain relief and relaxation. Sauna heat induces the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, which aids significantly in alleviating pain and fosters a sense of well-being. This is beneficial for those recovering from injuries, as it’s a natural avenue for pain management. Then of course there is the simpler more obvious effect of relaxation from a sauna bath. Finding ways to destress and unwind is always beneficial, and sauna's rise in popularity can be largely attributed to that sensation. Stress reduction is not just for mental health but is also absolutely vital in physical recovery. If you’re stressed, it can hinder the body’s healing, so by reducing stress levels, sauna bathing provides an indirect yet significant contribution to faster healing and recovery. 

Are you convinced yet? The vast depth of benefits of sauna bathing, as well as the scientific studies to back it all, present an enticing invitation to explore this age-old tradition. It’s truly a viable method to accelerate healing and enhance recovery, among many other benefits. As for healing and recovery, it’s clear: fostering muscle recuperation, alleviating joint discomfort, bolstering cardiovascular health and immune responses, the holistic advantages are profound. The compelling body of evidence underscores sauna bathing as a valuable addition to contemporary wellness strategies, urging individuals to delve into this restorative practice. 

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* Disclaimer: The information provided on our blog, including this article, is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice or mistaken for guidance from a certified electrician. By reading this blog post, you agree that the author is not a doctor or an electrician and that you will not hold the author liable for any damages or injuries resulting from your use of a sauna. If you have any questions or concerns about sauna usage, please consult with your doctor and/or electrician before using a sauna.