Fibromyalgia or FM is a frustrating and painful disease that predominately strikes women. As of now, scientists do not know what causes it, and treatments for it have proven uncertain at best. However, there is now research hinting that FIR or far infrared rays may provide additional relief against fibromyalgia.
What Is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that is characterized by pain, tenderness, fatigue and other symptoms. It’s one defining characteristic is the existence of nine pairs of tender points or trigger points in different parts of the body that hurt when they are even lightly touched. These tender points come in pairs and are found:
• At the back of the neck
• At the tops of the shoulders
• Around the shoulder blades
• At the hips
• At the tops of the thighs
• At the sides of the neck
• Around the collar bones
• At the inside of the elbows
• Around the inside of the knees
Other symptoms include stiffness in the morning, headache, insomnia, restless leg syndrome, dysmenorrhea, and sensitivity to temperature. Fibromyalgia symptoms can also mimic those of allergic rhinitis.
Though doctors don’t know what causes fibromyalgia, many believe that it’s triggered by an event that is physically or emotionally stressful or traumatic. However, some patients get fibromyalgia without having suffered any triggering event. For them, the disorder seems to have come out of nowhere.
Other researchers believe that people with fibromyalgia have nervous systems that process pain differently. They feel pain from stimuli that other people do not find painful at all.
Because the symptoms of fibromyalgia resemble those of so many other conditions, it is difficult to diagnose. Doctors believe that they have to rule out other conditions before they decide upon a diagnosis of fibromyalgia. There are also no tests specifically for fibromyalgia, and a person with fibromyalgia has no outward or even inward signs that something is wrong with them. There is no swelling, bruising, inflammation or bleeding.
Can Far Infrared Rays Help?
Scientists use a spectrum to measure electromagnetic radiation, and far infrared, or FIR is nearer to the long wave than short wave end of this spectrum. FIR has a wavelength that’s between 3 and 100 nanometers. The patient feels the energy of FIR in the form of a soothing heat. It is the only type of infrared radiation that can be perceived this way by a human being.
Scientists believe that the application of far infrared rays can help temporarily manage symptoms of certain medical issues. FIR can be applied through heat lamps or used to impregnate fabrics that can be worn by the patient. Even mattresses can be used to deliver FIR while the patient sleeps. (1)
Saunas can be used to produce FIR if they are fitted with elements heated up to between 572 and 752 degrees Fahrenheit, which is in the FIR range. Tourmaline that is ground into powder and applied to the skin also has the power to emit FIR rays.
Studies using FIR saunas have also been conducted on patients with fibromyalgia. This is called Waon therapy and is used in Japan and Korea. In one study, 13 female patients were placed in a dry sauna that was kept at 140 degrees F. This lasted for 15 minutes. After that, they went into a room that was kept between 79 and 81 degrees F. Blankets were tucked around the women, and they were allowed to stay in the room for 30 minutes. The women received this treatment two to five times per week. They were then given questionnaires to fill out regarding their fibromyalgia symptoms. (2,3)
All of the patients reported a noticeable reduction in their symptoms. It is unclear the extent to which far infrared therapy was able to influence the severity of their symptoms. All perceived benefits, while being positive, were minor and temporary.
FIR also affects the cells. Animal studies have shown that “Wound healing was significantly more rapid with than without FIR”, “Histological findings revealed greater collagen regeneration.” (3). Doctors are not entirely sure how FIR works in healing wounds. (4)
Allergic Rhinitis and Fibromyalgia
Though they may at first seem to have not much in common, allergic rhinitis and fibromyalgia share many of the same symptoms. They include a cough, congestion, runny nose and postnasal drip. Allergic rhinitis is, as the name implies, the body’s reaction to something it is allergic to, but with fibromyalgia, there is no allergic reaction. But the same muscle spasms that afflict the rest of the body in a fibromyalgia suffer can afflict the muscles in the head and the face. This can cause sinuses and nasal passages to tighten, which leads to post-nasal drip, which leads to coughing to clear the throat of phlegm, which leads to a raw throat. This is called irritant rhinitis as opposed to allergic rhinitis. (4)
People with fibromyalgia are also sensitive to substances in the environment that may or may not cause allergies in other people. This includes perfumes, cigarette smoke, certain smells, and medications. Doctors do not know how the mechanism of irritant rhinitis works. However, since FIR has been shown to lessen the overall discomforts of fibromyalgia, it may show promise in managing the similar symptoms of allergic rhinitis as well.
Far infrared rays or FIR have shown promise for managing fibromyalgia symptoms in at least one study that involved humans. It has also been shown to assist in wound healing in rats and support the proper functioning of the cardiovascular system. FIR can be delivered through exposure to heat lamps, in saunas or heat cabinets or even through wearing special clothing or sleeping on mattresses. Topically applied powders have also been known to deliver FIR. Though experts don’t know exactly how it works, far infrared looks promising in relieving the minor symptoms of fibromyalgia and other conditions like it.