If you’ve ever drawn a bath at the end of a long day to ease sore muscles, found physical and mental relaxation when swimming laps, or sought relief in the calm waters of a lake or the rhythmic waves of the ocean, you know the power that water can have in relieving physical and psychological tension.
Floatation therapy harnesses that essential power and combines it with the deeply relaxing properties of magnesium, and the calming, centering capabilities of restricted environmental stimulation therapy (REST).
Float therapy for pain relief
The characteristics of floatation therapy make it a strong fit for treating physical pain, helping the body recover from injury and pain-related illnesses, and rebound from vigorous physical exertion. Removing external stimuli from the float environment has the effect of all but eliminating the body’s internal stress response. Floating appears to take us out of “flight or fight” (a chronic state of physiological being for many of us) and moves us into “rest and recover.” That “fight or flight” stress response—with the excitatory hormones and inflammation surges that are a part of it—is a primary trigger for pain.
Short-term and chronic pain make sound, restful sleep difficult. Pain’s interference with sleep and quality of life can occur at any age; it becomes more common as we grow older. Similar to the way that psychological stress creeps into our daily lives, physical pain also can take up a sleep-disruptive presence in our lives, often without our full awareness.
And stress and pain frequently occur together, escalating one another in a debilitating cycle that’s particularly tough on sleep and our ability to feel and perform our best. That cycle of poor sleep, stress, and pain can also lead people to seek help from prescription sleep and pain medications, or to self-medication with alcohol, caffeine, and other drugs.
There’s a growing body of research that demonstrates the potential for floatation therapy to significantly improve physical pain. Studies show pain relief is one of the most prominent benefits of floatation REST therapy. While we’re still relatively early in exploring the full spectrum of possible therapeutic benefits, scientific research has investigated float therapy in treating many different types of pain and pain conditions, with promising results.
Muscle tension and stress-related pain. It’s not surprising to me that many studies of floatation therapy find simultaneous relief from physical pain and psychological distress, at the same time they experience improvements to sleep. The three are inextricably linked. Research shows pain can be reduced by floatation therapy, and so can chronic, stress-related muscle pain and the depression and anxiety that accompanies it.
A growing body of research is finding that floatation therapy is effective in reducing muscle pain and the physical pain connected to psychological stress, including headache, neck and back pain. Finding relief for chronic and intermittent physical pain and the psychological frustration that goes with it can remove major impediments for many adults who struggle to get the rest they need.
Fibromyalgia. Sleep troubles are a hallmark symptom and consequence of fibromyalgia. Widespread pain, and the tender points that people with fibromyalgia experience, make it difficult to get comfortable and relax, and to fall asleep and stay asleep. Recent research looked specifically at the effects of floatation therapy on fibromyalgia, in a study that spanned five countries.
Participants with fibromyalgia underwent three float sessions, and scientists measured and assessed pain levels before and after each float. Patients experienced a significant drop in pain sensitivity and pain intensity after each float session—and the pain-relieving benefits grew stronger the more sessions they completed. They also experienced significant improvements to muscle tension, ease of movement, and reductions in stress, anxiety, and feelings of sadness—and these benefits also grew stronger with each session. At the same time, fibromyalgia patients experienced increased energy, relaxation and well-being that became more pronounced with each additional session.