In my darkest moments, I lost all semblance of independence. I could no longer complete the simplest of acts on my own. From dressing myself to getting into bed, doing my hair, and even shaving my legs; I needed help doing everything. Walking to the bathroom was a marathon, and stepping into a car was almost out of the question.
But my ailments were more than physical. I felt like I was undergoing a vicious attack on my mind. I felt exhausted all of the time, never wanted to socialize with friends, and would cry at the drop of a hat. Looking back, I think I was depressed, though I refused to acknowledge it at the time. (Are you struggling with this too? Let’s talk about the other tools I use to manage my chronic pain…hint: mindset is key!).
This was all occurring throughout the winter months of 2016/2017. One year has passed, and as I sit here writing on a chilly January evening, I find it hard to remember the state I just described to you. Now my muscles feel relatively relaxed and pain-free, compared to the tense, almost spastic state they were constantly in a year ago. I can do all of the aforementioned tasks on my own, and am going for daily walks (with or without snowshoes).
So how did I get from the darkness to the light I see today?
There is no magic cure-all pill that I took. My change of state can only be attributed to a multitude of actions, both medical and non-traditional.
Medically speaking, I began taking a small dose of methotrexate daily. I still take this medication, and I seemed to luck out in the side-effects department, because I don’t experience any.
I did extensive research and, scientifically, I understand this medication is helping me. It’s lowering my immune system and helping to prevent my body from attacking itself (such is the pernicious nature of an autoimmune disease such as PsA).
But I don’t attribute my current state of health to methotrexate alone. Around the time I started this medication, I was introduced to a lesser known, less traditional (in the Western culture at least) form of treatment. It is this treatment that finally allowed me to find relief. It truly gave me my life back and allowed me to feel closer to my chronological age. (I’m currently sitting around a 30/35 as opposed to 90+, wahoo!)
Any guesses as to what this treatment method may be?
I’m talking about an infrared sauna!
I know it sounds slightly crazy, and I would have a hard time believing this if I didn’t experience it first-hand, but just one 40 minute session in the sauna gave me relief from my muscle pain/stiffness. That’s right. After endless hours and money spent on massages, acupuncture, physiotherapy, ultrasound, TENS, and more, I was able to find some semblance of relief in just 40 minutes of sitting in a wooden box and sweating like I had never sweat before.
(Side note: I also experience clearer skin and deep, restorative sleeps post sauna!)
Sitting in the sauna is like a fun little trip to the beach. You feel like you’re basking under the sun, without the worry of absorbing harmful UV rays. It’s a great way to warm up in the colder months when you just can’t shake that winter chill. I also loooove doing mindset work while enjoying a sauna…including meditation!
So why is the sauna so effective for me?
To answer that question, you have to understand exactly what’s happening when you step into that glorious wooden box.
When you begin your sauna session, infrared rays are penetrating deep into your skin and warming you from the inside out. As your internal temperature begins to rise, your heart beats faster as it tries to cool you down. As your temperature increases even more, you also begin sweating. The benefits of this are twofold:
1) You’re experiencing something known as cardiovascular conditioning — simply put, your heart is performing better, and circulation is improved.
2) You’re burning calories. A lot of calories. A 2001 study published in the Journal of American College of Cardiology by Dr. Masakazu Imamura suggests that just 30 minutes in the sauna will burn 400–600 calories!
Hold up. Remember I said there’s no magic cure-all pill? I’m not claiming that the sauna is such. I still have some muscle pain/stiffness, even on the days I sauna. But I AM saying that my overall pain/stiffness has been significantly reduced with regular sauna sessions. If we imagine a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being no pain and 10 being the worst pain imaginable, I moved from an 8 on my worst day to a 2 on my best day in the span of a year. I’d say that’s a pretty huge win, wouldn’t you?
It’s important to note that not all saunas are created equal. If you’re considering treatment with an infrared sauna, do your research first. You want to look for a sauna made of allergy-free wood and constructed with non toxic materials. It’s also important to use a sauna with low magnetic fields and ceramic, NOT carbon, infrared heaters. I used a SaunaRay sauna at my local yoga studio. I experienced so much relief that I later purchased my own sauna from SaunaRay.
I take a holistic approach to my PsA treatment, meaning I focus on treating my entire body, including my mind. This is a huge focus for me, and I contribute a large part of my wellbeing today to this mindset training. Is this up your alley? You can also learn about the other tools I use to manage my chronic pain.
Have you ever heard of infrared saunas for arthritis treatment? Have you tried one and found relief yourself? Let me know in the comments below!
I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis in my twenties. I am writing my story for the purpose of inspiring others and building a community for young adults going through a similar experience. I am giving you an honest account of how I worked through my diagnosis.
~ find the light ~