Can thermotherapy help rheumatoid arthritis? As with most thermotherapy, there hasn’t been much scientific research done. On sauna for rheumatoid arthritis, there is really only one actual trial, and it was fairly small.

In 2008, a Dutch team treated 17 rheumatoid arthritis patients, and 17 with ankylosing spondylitis with 8 sauna treatments (twice a week for 4 weeks). They didn’t treat people in acute flare-ups, because they weren’t sure if it might aggravate the disease. Very importantly they found that the sauna didn’t make anyone’s disease worse, and no harmful side-effects occurred. The participants reported they were comfortable in the sauna and afterwards.1

Each sauna treatment was for 30 minutes at 55°C.

The immediate effect of the sauna was significant reductions in pain and stiffness.

After the 4 weeks of treatment, there were slight improvements in pain, stiffness and fatigue. These improvements were largely lost during the 4 weeks follow-up after the saunas were ceased. Participants still reported better function in mobility and self-care with less tension and a better mood.

Although this is only a small study, the findings are backed up by bloggers like this reporting similarly positive effects of the sauna on their RA.

We know that the saunas decrease the inflammation in the body.2 My thinking is that with this month of treatment when you are feeling better, to deal with some of the inflammation of your system. Things like your diet, lack of exercise and outside time, stress and self-worth control. Then you may be able to make some of these improvements permanent.

Can thermotherapy help rheumatoid arthritis?

Let’s see!

      1. Oosterveld FGJ, Rasker JJ, Floors M, Landkroon R, van Rennes B, Zwijnenberg J, et al. 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. Clin Rheumatol. 2009;28: 29–34.
      2. Laukkanen JA, Laukkanen T. Sauna bathing and systemic inflammation. Eur J Epidemiol. 2018;33: 351–353.

Bruce ThompsonAUTHOR

BAppSc-Physiotherapy, Sydney University 1978

Bruce Thompson is a qualified Physiotherapist who has been using and teaching hydrotherapy for over 30 years.

See also: