I’m just like you. I want remedies for chronic pain to be easy to use and cost effective. But more than anything, I want them to WORK. Since I think of myself as a skeptic with a strong tendency to believe, I’ve probably tried more remedies than most people. If I’m convinced it won’t hurt me and it’s affordable, why not give a new remedy a try? That’s the approach I have to this post’s two therapies: magnets and far infrared saunas and mats. They certainly can’t hurt me, so it’s worth a try no matter what scientific studies have or haven’t proven.
Magnetic therapy can include many things – jewelry, wraps for specific body parts, mats, mattress pads, shoe inserts, etc. It’s been around for many thousands of years. In fact, I found reference to it in 16th century Switzerland with lodestones, a naturally magnetized mineral. However, it’s also been questioned for thousands of years.
In the late 20th century, a study was done with 50 post-polio patients who lived with chronic pain. Study participants were asked to use either a sham magnet or a true magnet for 45 minutes. At the end of one therapy session, “The 29 who received an active magnet reported a reduction in pain to 4.4 from 9.6, compared with a smaller decline to 8.4 from 9.5 among the 21 treated with a sham magnet.” It’s a small sample of just 50 people, who were only treated one time. But that’s a significant effect.
How do magnets help chronic pain? According to proponents, they increase blood flow, decrease swelling, and change the functions of nerves carrying pain messages to the brain.
A few years ago I tried some magnetic insoles from a friend’s company, aVivoPur. I was having significant foot pain, and I often stand for several hours when I’m in my massage office. Just a few weeks later, I realized my foot pain had decreased significantly. Now I have magnetic insoles in a few different pairs of shoes.
It’s important to say that these therapies are NOT diagnostic. If you don’t know why you’re having chronic pain, see your doctor. Magnets should not be used if you have a pacemaker, or other electrical implant such as an insulin pump or brain stimulator. And it may be wise not to wear them 24/7.
Far infrared therapy has been controversial, but generally seems to have science to back up its claims. You can receive far infrared therapy from sitting in a sauna, lying on a mat, or wearing a belt-type device. There are saunas in spas and treatment locations that can be booked by the session, or you can purchase a small unit for your home.
Essentially, the heat from the sauna or device is where the benefits start. Far infrared heat works differently because it heats your body’s core to a cellular level, rather than just at the surface. Infrared heat has different spectrums, which provide different results. The most effective for chronic pain would be mid infrared, but there are also pain-related benefits from far and near infrared. You may want to find a full spectrum infrared sauna to gain all types of benefit.
A 2006 study published in Pain Research & Management found that infrared therapy was an effective way to reduce chronic, intractable lower back pain. The sample was small (21 patients) but, “The mean numerical rating scale (NRS) scores in the treatment group fell from 6.9 of 10 to 3 of 10 at the end of the study. The mean NRS in the placebo group fell from 7.4 of 10 to 6 of 10.”
Another study, published in 2005, found that infrared therapy as a part of integrative therapies was a promising method for treatment of chronic pain.
In truth, I haven’t given infrared saunas a full try yet. It’s challenging to find time to schedule sessions nearby. However, I did purchase a far infrared mat a few months ago. Most days I use it for about an hour, while I’m sitting still. It feels good and seems to have helped my pain levels.
Before you try infrared therapy, please make sure you’re properly hydrated with at least 8-32 ounces of filtered water. Consider starting with some partial sessions before you move up to a whole hour of sauna therapy. And always listen to your body during a session – if it’s uncomfortable, it may be you’ve had enough for that session.
Let me know what you decide to try and how it goes!
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