Infrared saunas may help people with rheumatoid arthritis heal tissue, improve mobility, and reduce pain.

An infrared sauna uses infrared lamps that produce electromagnetic radiation to heat your body directly instead of heating the air around you. They’re also not as hot as traditional saunas — using temperatures of 120–140°F, they’re 30–40 degrees cooler.

The heat from infrared saunas may help reduce inflammation in your joints caused by rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a type of arthritis that happens when your immune system attacks healthy joint tissue. Reduced inflammation can mean relief from some of the symptoms you experience with RA, including joint pain, fatigue, and stiffness.

Read on to learn more about how an infrared sauna can help treat RA, what risks and side effects you should keep in mind, and where you can go to try an infrared sauna for RA.

Electromagnetic radiation from infrared sauna lamps can directly pass through your skin and reach tissues deeper in your body. Heat from this radiation stimulates adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production in your cells.

ATP helps your body produce nitric acid, which introduces more oxygen into your bloodstream. This oxygen-rich blood can help reduce swelling in your joints that occurs as a result of reduced oxygen (hypoxia) from inflammation.

As radiation heats your body, sweating also helps your body release toxic substances that result from inflammation and contribute to inflammation in RA.

The direct application of heat helps you gain the benefits that heat can have on inflamed joints and damaged tissue without exposing the rest of your body to high temperatures and overheating you.

Infrared saunas have benefits for RA that are supported by research.

Improved blood flow

Inflammation in your joints from RA reduces the amount of oxygen that’s available to your joint tissue. Heat helps widen your blood vessels in a process called vasodilation. This brings a healthy flow of oxygen-rich blood that can reduce inflammation in your joints.

Increased blood flow can also help heal inflamed synovial joint tissue that has been thickened by inflammation and repair damage RA has caused in other parts of your body.

Increased joint mobility

Oxygen-rich blood helps clear away inflammatory byproducts that can reduce joint mobility, such as reactive oxygen species. Heat also helps joint tissue move more easily so you don’t feel as stiff.

Additionally, sweating while you’re using an infrared sauna can clear substances such as micronutrients and metabolic waste products that may build up in your joints due to inflammation and other bodily processes. This can free up the joint space and help you regain a wider range of motion.

Reduced pain

Heat treatment from an infrared sauna may help retrain your stress response so you feel some of the pain and discomfort from inflammation less acutely.

Heat stimulates your body to produce endorphins that improve your mood. Endorphins can also change how your body perceives pain from tissues affected by RA by muting the nerve cells that carry pain signals to your brain. This can cause pain to feel less severe.

Possible side effects of infrared sauna use for RA or other conditions include:

An infrared sauna can be an effective way to manage RA symptoms along with traditional immune-targeted treatments.

You might consider trying an infrared sauna for RA if first-line treatments such as medications and diet and lifestyle strategies aren’t helping you manage your pain and other symptoms.

An infrared sauna may also help make you feel more relaxed.

Long-term pain and inflammation from RA can make you feel exhausted and frustrated if the condition prevents you from living the life you want. The endorphin rush from an infrared sauna may make you feel more comfortable and optimistic.

Who should avoid it?

Infrared sauna use can trigger symptoms of other conditions. Talk with a doctor before using an infrared sauna if you have:

You can find infrared saunas at medical facilities, physical therapy clinics, private treatment centers, and spas. Health insurance doesn’t typically cover infrared sauna treatments, but your insurance provider may reimburse you for the cost of services a healthcare professional recommends for you.

A doctor or physical therapist may be able to refer you to a treatment center that offers infrared sauna services.

if you have the space and the money to spend, you can purchase infrared sauna devices at hardware stores that are big enough for one or four people to sit inside. These devices start around $2,000 but may cost $10,000 or more depending on how large or powerful they are.

You can also have licensed contractors install an infrared sauna in your home.

If you’re on a budget, you can purchase sauna blankets that heat your body and imitate the effects of an infrared sauna. But these blankets may not offer the same benefits as an infrared sauna because they don’t target specific areas, and they may heat up your whole body.

Infrared saunas are one of many possible ways to manage the pain and complications that come with RA.

If you’re interested in trying an infrared sauna, speak with a healthcare professional first to make sure it’s safe and right for you.