Joint pain is one of the main reasons you’ll hear people say, “I used to ski, play tennis, run … (insert an activity you’ve had to give up because of achy knees or hips). Many of the causes that lead to aching joints are treatable with natural methods, including red light therapy.
Plus, natural remedies are often focused on getting to the root of the problem – not just treating pain and swelling – so you’re likely to experience long-lasting relief as the underlying condition resolves.
In this article:
- Why do joints hurt?
- Red light: a surprising (yet scientifically backed) method to relieve joint pain
- Other natural remedies for joint pain
Why Do Joints Hurt?
Knowing why joints hurt is the first step in treating the cause and getting relief. The two most common reasons for painful joints are overuse injuries and osteoarthritis.
What we know as “overuse injuries” are the most common causes of pain. The term refers to injuries that occur from repetitive movements, ramping up activity too fast after time off, or insufficient recovery between workouts.
The human body is designed for a range of movements. Overuse injuries can arise from doing the same movements repetitively, which places disproportionate stress on certain joints and can cause muscle imbalances. These imbalances further aggravate the problem by altering biomechanics, which is how muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments work together to create movement.
For example, tight and weak adductors with disproportionately strong and flexible quadriceps are a leading cause of chronic knee pain. The quads, which are among the strongest and largest muscles in the legs, pull the kneecap in an outward direction. If their force is not balanced by the adductors (which pull the legs together), the kneecap may fail to track properly when you walk or run. The result can be cartilage degradation over time.
In every joint, muscle strength imbalances cause poor biomechanics which sets off a chain reaction of aching joints, overcompensation, and more aching joints.
Pain arises when the cartilage that cushions the joint wears down and becomes thin, causing excruciating pain; even slightly worn-down cartilage can cause chronic low-grade pain.
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. This degenerative disorder is often caused by overuse and repetitive motions and may not manifest for many years. According to the Mayo Clinic, nearly 80 percent of injured football players will likely develop osteoarthritis within 10 to 30 years of the injury – distressing news for anyone who has had a knee, shoulder, hip, elbow, or ankle injury.
Since the mechanics of every joint directly affect the mechanics of other joints, problems in one joint can escalate from localized pain to general musculoskeletal problems.
People who suffer from overuse injuries and osteoarthritis may use a variety of treatments to help with healing and pain relief, including natural treatments like red light therapy. Learn more about red light therapy for facet joint pain.
Red Light Therapy for Joint Pain
Also known as low-level light therapy (LLLT) or photobiomodulation, red light therapy has proved to be a potent treatment for a variety of joint disorders. Whether pain stems from an overuse injury, osteoarthritis, inflammation (bursitis), dislocation, or even traumatic injury, red light shows promise to help.
You may wonder, how does shining a light on a painful joint help ease the pain? Many people aren’t aware of just how powerful that light is.
For centuries it has been known that the human body is highly responsive to light. Ancient healers used natural sunlight to treat a variety of ailments. During the late nineteenth century, scientists discovered that what appears to be warm-white light from the sun is actually an entire spectrum of colors.
Today, it is known that each color is a wavelength of a different size, and each affects the body differently. Hundreds of studies have shown that red light benefits the body in numerous ways, while being gentle and completely safe.
The term “red light” encompasses both red and near-infrared (NIR) wavelengths. Research has shown that the most beneficial wavelengths for healing are between 620 nanometers (nm) and 660nm (red), and between 810nm and 850nm (NIR). This range is often referred to as the “therapeutic window.”
How Does Red Light Therapy Work?
Red light therapy involves shining concentrated wavelengths of red or NIR light from a high-powered LED device onto bare skin, where the light photons penetrate the skin and the underlying tissue. The treatment is painless, does not generate heat, and does not cause burns.
Red wavelengths are shorter than NIR wavelengths, so they are most beneficial for treating skin-deep problems. NIR’s longer wavelengths are able to penetrate bone, muscle, and connective tissue deeper in the body.
Here is a research-backed explanation of how red light therapy can treat the causes of aching joints.
Increased Cellular Energy
Red and NIR light stimulates light-sensitive chromophores in mitochondria, which are tiny energy-producing organelles within most cells of the body. This leads to increased production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the primary cellular fuel.
Research has clearly shown that increasing cellular energy production is the key to healing. Energized cells perform their specialized functions and replicate and repair themselves, unlike depleted cells, which struggle to survive.
One of many papers that focused on this phenomenon was published in 2008 by researchers from the University of California at San Diego, La Jolla. They reported an improvement in functioning among cells that were exposed to red and NIR light.
Inflammation is the body’s normal, necessary immune response to injury. If it becomes chronic, however, inflammation can damage cells, which slows healing. Reducing inflammation is essential; otherwise, the joint will continue to deteriorate.
In a 2017 paper published in the scientific journal AIMS Biophysics, Dr. Michael Hamblin, one of the world’s foremost experts on the effects of red light, explained that reducing inflammation is particularly important for joint disorders. Inflammation causes oxidative stress, which is one of the primary reasons for mitochondria being unable to produce enough energy (mitochondrial dysfunction).
Increased Collagen Production
While many doctors believe that damaged or eroded cartilage (connective tissue) cannot be regrown in adults, some research suggests otherwise, such as a 2015 study by researchers from Brazil.
Collagen is a protein and the main component of cartilage. Red light stimulates the production of fibroblasts, the "pre-cells" that produce collagen.
The Brazilian researchers found that red light stimulates fibroblasts that produce Type 3 collagen. Rats with osteoarthritis exhibited significant cartilage regrowth after being exposed to red light. That’s great news – but there was more.
Initially, red light accelerated the destruction of damaged cartilage before stimulating the growth of new cartilage, which suggests that damaged areas can heal more thoroughly.
Improved Circulation and Faster Muscle Recovery
Healing requires increased blood and flow of lymph, meaning fluid that flows through the lymphatic system. While cartilage itself does not contain any blood or lymph vessels, the muscles do. If aching joints are caused by a muscular problem, the first step to healing is to increase circulation, heal the muscles, and potentially ease some strain on the joints.
Chronically sore muscles could cause postural and movement changes that add stress to joints. Using red light to relieve muscle tension can restore normal mobility and potentially correct poor biomechanics.
A 2017 study by researchers from Austria revealed that red light promotes the production of both cardiovascular and lymphatic endothelial cells, which form capillaries (the outermost circulatory vessels).
Treatment with 830nm NIR light therapy relieved the pain of injured athletes suffering from sprains, strains, ligament damage, tendonitis, and contusions, according to a 2016 study. Pain scores improved and return-to-play was much sooner than expected (9.6 days versus the anticipated 19.23 days).
A 2009 study by researchers from Hungary found that patients with knee osteoarthritis experienced reduced knee pain and improved microcirculation.
Numerous studies have shown exceptional results using red light therapy to reduce osteoarthritis pain as well as overall joint pain.
- In a 2011 study on sacroiliac joint pain by researchers from Japan, all participants showed significant improvement in pain scores, and two-thirds showed increased trunk mobility after 10 treatments with 830nm NIR light over five weeks.
- In a study by researchers from Beer Yaakov, Israel, elderly patients with osteoarthritis were treated with two 15-minute treatment sessions daily for 10 days. The patients experienced functional improvement, as well as a significant 50 percent reduction in pain.
- In 2000, Canadian researchers conducted a review of clinical trials on rheumatoid arthritis. Of the 204 participants studied, red light reduced pain by 70 percent, increased palm flexibility, and reduced morning stiffness.
- A 2013 review of 16 clinical trials involving 820 patients found that red light reduced neck pain immediately after treatment and for up to 22 weeks after treatment.
- For a 2006 study, 40 patients with low back pain (which can be caused by pain in the sacroiliac joint or hip) were treated with NIR light (800nm and higher). This resulted in a 50 percent reduction of chronic back pain over six weeks of treatment.
- A 2017 study by researchers at the Umm Al-Qura University Medical Center in Mecca, Saudi Arabia focused on osteoarthritis. The researchers found that red light along with glucosamine/chondroitin supplements resulted in the growth of synovial cartilage, or the connective tissue that lines the inside of the joint capsule.
Overall, red light therapy has shown promising results for a variety of conditions, and is approved by the FDA for general pain management. This makes in an excellent option to consider for anyone suffering from joint or arthritic pain.
LED Therapy Panels: A Convenient Solution for Joint Pain
Before beginning any home treatments, be sure to consult your doctor to rule out serious underlying conditions.
A Step By Step Guide to Using Red Light Therapy for Joint Pain
You can treat joint pain in the comfort of your own home using LED red light therapy panels.
A high light energy output LED panel — such as the PlatinumLED BIOMAX series panels — is the key to success. These are the most powerful lights on the market, delivering intense light that absorbs deeply into the very dense bone and tissue of the joints.
For best results, use a panel that is large enough to give you the most even and potent coverage on the area you’re treating. Avoid wands and other hand-held devices because they are not only underpowered but too small to be effective on larger joints.
You will get the most comprehensive results using a panel that delivers both red and NIR light. This allows you to treat the joint near the surface and deep within the joint. The BIOMAX series delivers a scientifically based blend of the most widely studied wavelengths: 630nm, 660nm, 810nm, 830nm, and 850nm.
Position the panel so that you can stand, sit, or lie comfortably for 15 to 20 minutes several times per week.
It’s important to note that like most natural therapies, red light is not a quick fix. Instead of just treating the pain and ignoring the underlying causes, red light therapy supports the body’s own healing processes. You may experience some relief immediately, but expect profound healing to occur over the course of several months of consistent treatment.
Even if you experienced profound pain relief after the first treatment, we recommend you keep going. That’s the only way to promote full healing and prevent future flare-ups.
As for when you’ll see relief, that depends on several variables: the severity of cartilage degradation, how much inflammation you have in the area, and the intensity of the pain.
The key to success is consistency; since red light treatments are short and you can treat yourself at home, it’s easy to fit several sessions into your weekly routine.
Other Natural Remedies for Joint Pain
To help ease symptoms of joint pain, you could also try these natural remedies.
- Manage your weight
Excess weight adds a lot of pressure on your joints, especially those in the torso and lower body. Work with your doctor to set an ideal weight and formulate a program to reach your goal.
- Keep moving
A well-rounded exercise program will help keep the joints lubricated and develop even muscle tone. A combination of strength training, walking, cycling, yoga, and swimming is a great way to build strength.
- Add turmeric to your diet.
This natural anti-inflammatory root is what gives curry its golden hue. Its main ingredient, curcumin, has both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and has been shown to reduce pain and arthritis-related inflammation.
- Alternate heat and cold.
Alternating ice and heat can ease stiffness and increase blood flow to the area.
- Eat a healthy diet.
A plant-based diet is rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory substances. Avoid a diet high in red meat and sugar, both of which are known to aggravate inflammation.
- Add herbal supplements.
Some herbs may be effective analgesics. These include bromelain, thunder god vine, ginkgo, and stinging nettle. Even black pepper has analgesic properties. But remember, always consult your doctor before adding any supplements because of the danger of drug interactions.
- Add glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM.
This popular approach can support joint health. Both glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are present in normal cartilage and may stimulate the body to produce more cartilage. However, studies about the effect of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate on pain show mixed results.
The main effect seems to be long-term. Some doctors recommend taking glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate for three months. If there is no apparent improvement, it’s reasonable to stop taking these supplements.
Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), is a supplement often used to treat arthritis pain. This natural sulfur compound is naturally in the body. This anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving compound is essential for healthy connective tissue and joint function. As with glucosamine and chondroitin, the effects of MSM may become more apparent over time.
Regain Your Mobility and Quality of Life with Red Light
Red light therapy can be a key component in offering relief from painful joints while encouraging healing of the injured area. This pleasurable treatment is noninvasive, has no unwanted side effects, and is highly effective in treating a wide variety of ailments. Check out the PlatinumLED blog to discover the many ways to enhance your wellbeing with this natural treatment.
Frequently Asked Question
Q. What could cause joint pain besides Arthritis?
Ans: Fibromyalgia, Tendinitis, and Bursitis can also cause joint pain if one does not have Arthritis. Learn more about how red light therapy for fibromyalgia can help.