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Saunas – Healthy or Harmful

Sauna (a Finnish word) means a room in which water is splashed on the hot rocks to produce steam. Whilst traditionally a sauna involve adding water to hot coals to produce a steam atmosphere, these days there are several different types of sauna. These include:
Sauna benefits

– Infrared Sauna
– Wet Sauna
– Dry Sauna
– Smoke Sauna
– Steam Sauna

The heat of the sauna (which can get as high as 85C) can have significant effects on the body. The temperature of the skin rises to over 40C and the sweat begins to pour out. For most people their pulse rate climbs by more than 30% which results in the heart pumping nearly twice the volume of blood in a given time. The extra blood flow is directed to the skin however the effect of a sauna on blood pressure is not predictable as it can rise in some people yet decrease in others.

Many supporters of saunas argue that the sauna can assist in removing toxins from within the body and blood.. As we sweat more during sauna bath and the skin’s pores open, it helps in excretion of toxins through the sweat. Others claim that people may experience improved mood and health after a sauna as the body gets cleansed through sweating.

Saunas may also be useful in joint pains as the hot steam aids blood flow within the muscles and the restricted muscles can be released. Regular saunas bath can also assist physical and mental relaxation. Those suffering from sleep disorders may benefit from frequent saunas as it is claimed to encourage a good night’s sleep. For those who are not able to exercise, the sauna may provide a convenient alternative through increased blood circulation.

Some studies have indicated that regular saunas may improve immune resistance. For example German researchers studied 22 children who had a regular sauna. When they compared them with a control group that took no saunas they found that children who had no saunas had twice the number of sick days compared to the experiment group.

Other studies have indicated that certain heavy metals have been detected in the sweat excreted during a sauna (although there is some question whether these would have been eliminated regardless of whether the person had a sauna or not).

Sauna Precautions
However as with any new exercise regime, people considering using saunas are advised to be aware that there are some precautions that they should consider. If they have any slight doubt regarding the safety of using a sauna then they should consult their health care professional. In particular, pregnant women, patients with heart conditions, those with high or low blood pressure or any other systemic disease or condition must talk to their doctor before entering a sauna for the first time.

  
Other precautions include:
– Avoid alcohol and/or medications, in particular those that may interfere with the sweating process (which can result in overheating).
– Do not stay in a sauna for more than 15-20 minutes.
– Never take a sauna when you are unwell and if you ever feel ill during a sauna then exit immediately.
– Drink plenty of water after the sauna to avoid dehydration.

Pregnant women, heart patient with low or high blood pressure condition or suffering from any disease which has negative effect of sauna bath should first consult a physician regarding their physical condition and the length of period they can take sauna bath. As an example of the negative effects that a sauna may have then a study in the Journal of American Medical Association found that there may be an relationship between neural-tube defects and heat exposure from saunas, hot tubs, and fever during the first three months of pregnancy. (The largest contributor was found to be was hot tubs, which pregnant women should use only with extreme caution).

If you are interested in finding out more about the benefits of saunas then please visit www.sauna-benefits.com.au.

By Richard Lane

Baker’s Cyst and Massage

A Baker’s cyst is an uncomfortable condition that most often occurs in adults over 55 or in children between around 4 and 7 years of age. It is estimated that around 20% of people with other knee problems may end up suffering from a Baker’s cyst. Generally symptoms of a Baker’s cyst are relatively slight unless the cyst becomes so large as to extend into the calf muscles or if it bursts. Massage therapy can assist those suffering from a Baker’s cyst by relieving the swelling and discomfort associated with the cyst.

Baker's CystA Baker’s cyst is a swelling at the back of the knee. The entire knee joint is enclosed within a capsule which is lined with a membrane and filled with synovial fluid that lubricates the joint. It is suggested that some people have a small pouch at the back of the knee with is created by extra tissue. When these people suffer a knee injury, then the body’s response is to secrete more synovial fluid into the knee which tends to accumulate and fill this pouch causing the Baker’s cyst.

Baker’s Cyst – Symptoms
In some individuals, a Baker’s cyst causes no discomfort or pain and has no obvious symptoms. When symptoms do occur then the most common ones observed are:

  • A round mass or swelling behind the knee joint which may be soft or hard and is most apparent when the person is standing.
  • A sense of pressure behind the knee which may go down into the calf muscle.
  • Pain in the knee and a restricted range of motion.
  • Persistent pain and tenderness post exercise.

Causes for a Baker’s Cyst
The most common cause of a Baker’s Cyst is after an injury when damage to the knee capsule results in a build-up of synovial fluid as referred to above. The specific injury can include a torn cartilage, arthritis or even an infection in the knee joint. For those children who develop a Baker’s cyst occasionally there may be no obvious reason for the cyst to have developed.

Diagnosis of a Baker’s cyst
Suitably trained medical practitioners use a number of tests that are used to diagnose a Baker’s cyst. These include:

  • A physical examination of the knee + medical history.
  • A popular easy diagnostic tool is to turn off lights and shine a flashlight through any lump. Presence of a red glow indicates that the lump contains fluid.
  • Magnetic imaging resonance (MRI).
  • X-rays of the knee do not show a cyst but can indicate other trauma or arthritis damage to the knee.

Treatment of a Baker’s Cyst
If there is little or no pain then there may not need to be any active treatment and a doctor will just monitor the cyst over time. If treatment is indicated then the options include:

  • Treatment for the underlying cause, such as medication for arthritis or surgery for torn knee cartilage.
  • Avoid doing anything that can aggravate the knee joint.
  • Injections of Cortisone.
  • Aspirating the cyst with a needle to drain off the fluid.
  • Surgery to remove the cyst entirely (extreme cases).

  
With any treatment plan for a Baker’s cyst then rest and elevation is generally recommended to reduce the chance of the cyst returning. For children then the approach of watching and waiting is recommended as the cyst often subsides spontaneously.

Massage Therapy and Baker’s Cyst
As the cysts are normally located in the popliteal region which is generally considered as an area contraindicated for most massage techniques then a massage therapist should not apply any deep pressure directly onto the cyst. The role of the massage therapist is more aimed at alleviating the underlying knee problem.

Massage to the area superior to the cyst can have therapeutic benefits i.e. balancing the muscles that influence the knee joint such as hamstrings and adductors. It is suggested that lymphatic drainage techniques may assist in reducing swelling and facilitating recovery through increasing the rate of absorption of the excessive synovial fluid.

By Richard Lane


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