If you have a numbing sensation in your hands, feet, or other parts of the body, or suffer from sharp stabbing pain, read on.
You may have a peripheral nervous system condition known as neuropathy.
Treatment for neuropathy often focuses on anti-inflammatory drugs. These work by interrupting pain pathways in order to relieve discomfort and prevent further nerve damage.
But this doesn’t always address the numbness or tingling. Nor may it resolve the underlying problem.
Irrespective of where it originated, pain affects the nerves. According to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Pain Research, neuropathic pain adversely affects about 15 percent of the US population.
However, red light therapy is intended to treat neuropathy and has resulted in many success stories. RLT a natural therapeutic method that shows great promise in clinical trials in restoring nerve functioning and relieving the symptoms of neuropathy.
Read on to learn more about how this novel treatment method might be able to help.
What Kind of Light Therapy Works Best for Neuropathy?
Light therapy’s origins are in the healing properties of natural sunlight. For millennia, the sun has been viewed as a healing force, improving mood and treating chronic skin conditions.
Today, scientists are well aware that the body is highly reactive to light. They have furthermore discovered that each wavelength of light has unique effects on the human body. The term 'red light therapy' is used to refer to red and NIR light.
Wavelengths of light are measured in nanometers. According to world-renowned red light therapy expert Michael Hamblin, red wavelengths range from about 600nm to 700nm, and NIR wavelengths range from about 770nm to 1200nm.
Research has shown that there is an ideal wavelength range for health benefits. In red wavelengths, it is from 630nm to 650nm. In near-infrared wavelengths, it is from 810nm to 850nm. This is what is known as the 'therapeutic window.' It is the range in which R and NIR+ light has the most therapeutic benefit for humans.
For treating neuropathy, we'll focus more on NIR light therapy. Because of its longer wavelengths, it can penetrate deeper into the body’s tissues.
While red light wavelengths can access the nerves, NIR light is more powerful for treating underlying conditions.
Although near-infrared light is part of the infrared spectrum, its effects on the body are different from mid-infrared and far-infrared wavelengths.
NIR light absorbs into the skin and stimulates the cellular metabolism. In contrast, mid-infrared and far-infrared heat up the water content in the body, which means there is potential for heat damage. This can limit their usefulness in treating neuropathy.
How Does Red and NIR Light Therapy Work for Neuropathy?
Red light therapy uses medical-grade light-emitting diode bulbs to deliver concentrated wavelengths of red and/or near-infrared light to your skin. It uses LEDs.
Red light therapy stimulates the production of energy within cells that are exposed to the light, which sparks a positive ripple effect in a process similar to how plants convert sunlight into energy during photosynthesis.
The primary fuel of human cells is adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is produced by tiny organelles inside cells known as mitochondria. When light photons are soaked up by mitochondria, ATP production increases, which has a powerful stimulating effect on the cells in the body part being treated.
When you look at the difference in how you feel or how you perform at work when you're full of energy versus when you're just dragging along, you have an idea of how stimulating cellular energy can powerfully impact cells’ ability to perform at their best.
Red light is best known for its rejuvenating effect on the skin. It is widely used to treat fine lines and wrinkles, hair loss, and chronic skin disorders like psoriasis. Three mechanisms are primarily responsible for these effects: increased cellular energy, increased blood flow, and increased collagen and elastin production.
Because near-infrared wavelengths absorb deeper into the body – and can even penetrate bone – they can treat a huge variety of acute and chronic conditions, without side effects. For example, NIR light:
- Promotes muscle recovery from intense exercise and/or injury;
- Relieves inflammation and pain in joints and muscles;
- Stimulates healthy bone growth;
- Accelerates wound healing;
- Stimulates formation of new capillaries, which enhances blood flow;
- Reduces oxidative stress in the brain and may assist in treating traumatic brain injury (TBI), stroke, and neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinsin’s disease.
The Keys to Successfully Treating Peripheral Neuropathy With Light Therapy
Light therapy, specifically red light therapy (including red/NIR wavelengths) shows promise in treating peripheral neuropathy in the feet, hands, and other parts of the body.
Red light therapy uses several mechanisms to treat this debilitating condition:
- Reducing chronic inflammation which may contribute to oxidative stress in nerve cells.
- Managing pain due to peripheral nerve damage.
- Stimulating the production of Schwann cells and fibroblasts, which can lead to healthy nerve regeneration.
- Increasing cellular energy production, which allows cells to function at their best and successfully repair and replicate.
While it should not be considered a cure for neuropathy, red light therapy can be used in conjunction with conventional treatments to ease symptoms and potentially restore peripheral nervous system health.
Why Use Red Light Therapy for Neuropathy?
Treating constant pain or numbness from neuropathy is fairly straightforward – if there is a clear cause. For example, poor ergonomics can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome, or repetitive motion activity may cause a pinched shoulder or leg nerve.
Retraining the body in proper biomechanics can often relieve pressure on nerves, relieve neuropathy pain, and restore normal functioning.
Treatment goals for painful diabetic peripheral neuropathy focus on slowing the progression of diabetes, relieving pain, managing complications such as muscle weakness, and restoring function and mobility.
Treatment is more complicated, however, when there is a more complex underlying condition such as chronic inflammation that contributes to neuropathy pain. To experience long-term relief, the underlying condition must be treated.
Red light therapy doesn’t replace these conventional treatments. Rather, it enhances the body’s ability to heal itself.
How Red/Near-Infrared Light Helps Treat Peripheral Nerve Damage
The mechanism of relieving pain using near-infrared light primarily relies on stimulating the body’s healing mechanisms through increased cellular energy and reduced inflammation.
A 2017 study co-authored by Hamblin examined the biological effects of infrared radiation. The study revealed that nerve cells respond well to the bio-stimulating effects of NIR light.
Numerous studies have found that red light therapy has a beneficial pain-relieving effect. In several scientific papers, Hamblin has emphasized the treatment’s effectiveness at reducing inflammatory pain.
During a 2014 study by Iranian researchers, rats were divided into three groups, one of which was exposed to both 660nm red light, and 980nm low-level laser therapy for two weeks. Compared with the rats that were not treated, the treatment group showed improvement in neuropathic pain.
Many studies used lasers to deliver light to the body’s tissues, whereas other studies used LED devices. Although lasers concentrate the light more precisely than LED lights, the difference in terms of effectiveness is negligible since both devices are powerful enough to “drive” light photons into the body.
Recent advances in LED technology make red light therapy accessible to anyone outside of a research or clinical setting.
Without nerve regeneration, however, relief from pain is an ongoing struggle.
It’s not easy for the body to regrow nerve cells, but research has shown that it is possible. If the nerve cell itself is still alive, nerve fibers have a chance to regenerate, which can restore more normal nervous system communications and sensory function.
Many medical conditions and disorders are caused by chronic inflammation. If this is the cause of neuropathic pain, the first step toward relief is treating the inflammation.
Once all inflammation and primary causes are slowed or stopped, the key to improving neuropathic conditions is restoring normal nerve function. And one of the best ways to support this restoration is with NIR light therapy, which has been shown to reduce inflammation.
In 2017, Hamblin authored a scientific paper about red light therapy’s effectiveness at reducing chronic inflammation.
Eliminating underlying causes such as inflammation can prevent future nerve damage. If damage is already present (whether from injury or inflammation) In the case of nerve damage, there is a gap between healthy nerve cells and the damaged axons (nerve fibers) in an affected area.
In 2010, researchers from Japan published a study showing that red/NIR LED light therapy could promote nerve regeneration by reducing inflammation. The study found that the antioxidant properties of red/NIR light are conducive to nerve regeneration (oxidative stress leads to inflammation, which interferes with nerve functioning). In this study, red and NIR light therapy promoted nerve regeneration after three weeks of one-hour-per-day treatment.
Increased Blood Flow
An important finding during a 2017 study was that red light therapy stimulates the production of nitric oxide (not to be confused with the anesthetic nitric oxide). Nitric oxide contributes to vasodilation (the dilation of blood vessels), which decreases blood pressure and increases blood flow. The greater your circulatory capacity, the more nutrients and oxygen are available to all parts of the body to accelerate healing and potentially reduce chronic inflammation.
Stimulated Production of Schwann Cells and Fibroblasts
Closing the gap between healthy nerve cells and nerve fibers is necessary to restore nerve functioning. Red light therapy stimulates the production of Schwann cells (cells of the peripheral nervous system) and fibroblasts (cells in connective tissue). This has been shown to reduce inflammation and support restoration of normal nerve cell functioning.
Schwann cells and fibroblasts are the superstars of the body’s natural healing mechanisms.
Regenerating the connectivity in damaged nerves relies on Schwann cells. These highly specialized cells are essential to the health of the peripheral nervous system and play a crucial role in nerve development, function, maintenance, and regeneration. Schwann cells also form the myelin sheath, which is a protective layer that forms around nerves and allows electrical impulses to transmit quickly and efficiently along the nerve cells.
For Schwann cells to do their work, they require the assistance of fibroblasts. These cells produce collagen and other fibers that are necessary for rejoining severed or damaged tissue.
In the case of neuropathy, fibroblasts signal Schwann cells and stimulate them into forming a type of cord that rejoins the healthy nerve cells to damaged axons. This, in turn, guides the axons to regrow around an injured area and form a protective myelin sheath around the newly restored nerves.
Schwann cells and fibroblasts work in concert to repair nerve damage, and near-infrared light can support this process.
Increased Cellular Metabolism
When you’re sick, hungry, or exhausted and try to do too much, you know you only get sicker, or hungrier, or more exhausted. And it’s the same with your cells.
At the root of many chronic disorders lies a condition called mitochondrial dysfunction. This term broadly encompasses the inability of cells to produce enough energy. In effect, a depleted cell will struggle, which means it has to decide between performing its normal functions, or repairing and regenerating itself.
Stimulating energy production within the cells is key to optimal health in all of the body’s systems. While these mechanisms are not fully understood, research has shown that increasing cellular energy production supports healing.
The science supports the potential of red light therapy to treat peripheral neuropathy. The big question is …
Does Light Therapy Really Work on Neuropathy?
Due to the dearth of studies specific to light therapy’s effect on neuropathy, it should not be considered a cure.
Yet because of its clinically proven ability to reduce inflammation, light therapy can assist with the healing process of regenerating damaged nerves and in promoting pain relief.
One study that focused on pain relief (non-neuropathic) was published in the journal Practical Pain Management in 2012. Researchers used NIR therapy to ease the pain of carpal tunnel syndrome and a variety of other conditions, including acute and chronic non-fracture musculoskeletal injuries, chronic knee injury pain, plantar fasciitis, tendonitis, shin splints, and acute hand and wrist sprains.
Study participants reported from 40 to 100 percent reduction in pain, often within hours of treatment. Pain reduction lasted weeks and even months later, with no adverse side effects or complications.
What People Are Saying: Reviews of Red Light Therapy for Neuropathy
If you suffer from any other type of chronic pain such as osteoarthritis-related knee pain, sacroiliac pain, or low back pain, you may be interested in the results our customers are having using near-infrared light therapy for pain relief.
Suzanne K. said, “Pleased! We ordered these lights for my neuropathy. I had tried them out when our daughter came to visit and brought hers. It seems to help the burning pain I have at night. Thanks for sending them so quickly! They arrived sooner than I expected.”
David Hicks said, “My 90-year-old dad bought a bio max 600 about a year ago to see if it could help with his neuropathy in his feet and lower legs. He felt it was very beneficial and used it twice a day.”
Jill Holdstock said, “Love It! I’ve been using my Biomax 900 for a few weeks now. I use it mostly to deal with neuropathy symptoms and hair loss. It’s super powerful and better than the red light offered in saunas. It’s only been a few weeks but I feel better. I’m hoping for a reduction in numbness as time goes on. I look forward to my red light treatments every day.”
Using NIR Light at Home to Treat Neuropathy
People who suffer from neuropathic pain are often delighted to learn that they can safely treat their pain at home with a red light therapy device.
It’s important to know, however, that not all devices available for home use are the same.
If you decide to purchase a red light therapy device, be sure to purchase one of high quality and avoid small handheld devices. These devices are typically underpowered so only a tiny fraction of the light photons emitted are available to absorb into your body – meaning the devices aren’t powerful enough to treat conditions deep in the body.
In short, any cheap device, especially a battery-powered one, is likely a waste of money.
High Light Energy Output
The key to success with red light therapy is using high-output LED bulbs that deliver the highest possible amount of light energy, which is known as irradiance.
The BIOMAX series are premium quality LED panels designed to give you the highest possible irradiance for fast and effective results. The BIOMAX 900 is the industry-leading light therapy device that can effectively treat both localized and widespread neuropathy. It has a patented combination of five red/NIR wavelengths delivered in the optimal ratio for maximum effect.
Check out the comparison videos between BIOMAX lights and the competition here (scroll down to watch the video).
The Right Panel Size
Neuropathy refers to cells in very long nerves, and nerve conduction disorders may not be localized. Damage may have occurred in multiple points along a nerve, so it often makes sense to expose a larger part of the body to near-infrared light.
For widespread neuropathy, larger light therapy devices are the way to go. If your neuropathy is localized (such as in the feet) then a small panel may be just right for you.
A Combination of Red and Near-Infrared Wavelengths
Today, you can get medical-grade, FDA-registered LED light therapy devices that emit red light, NIR light, and a combination of both. With these devices, you can treat diabetic peripheral neuropathy, injury-induced neuropathy, or neuropathy due to chronic underlying conditions.
Treating neuropathy with both red and near-infrared light therapy can give you more systemic relief. Red light can stimulate nerve health in and just under the skin, such as in fingers and the soles of the feet. NIR light works on nerves that are deeper in the body, such as those in the intestines, bladder, and heart.
We recommend using a combination of red and NIR light therapy to treat neuropathic foot and leg pain, as well as pain in the hands and other body parts.
Consistency: Results Take Time
The greatest benefits of red/NIR light therapy come with time since the modality works on a cellular level.
Nerve cells, like all other cells in the body, require time to repair themselves or regenerate. Since all cells don't regenerate at the same time, the treatment period may involve several months of exposure to LED therapy, depending on the severity and extent of the nerve damage.
Ongoing treatment could be a way to maintain nerve health. Since red light therapy is considered safe and free of side effects, it can become a long-term solution to restoring and optimizing your nervous system health.
Treatment Time and Frequency
You can apply red/NIR light therapy to treat pain or numbness on any part of your body with short sessions of just 10 to 20 minutes at a time, three to five days per week.
Many people enjoy doing a short meditation while administering light therapy. This gives the body an extra boost in wellness since meditation relieves stress that may be contributing to chronic conditions, including inflammation and a weakened immune system.
Let Light Therapy Help You Feel Normal Again
Losing sensation in any part of your body can be unsettling or even terrifying. And the stabbing, stinging feeling of hyper-aroused nerve endings make it difficult to enjoy normal activities. Treating neuropathy with red light LED devices may be the answer you’re seeking to regain your quality of life and start feeling like yourself again.
For the highest-quality devices with the most powerful light energy output on the market, explore the PlatinumLED BIO series, which offers a choice between red and NIR light or a combination of both; and the PlatinumLED BIOMAX series, which offers a full-spectrum red/NIR array using the most scientifically validated wavelengths for overall health.
The BIOMAX Series panels also offer adjustable intensity and wavelength exposure, so users can choose between R+, NIR+, and 480nm blue light therapy treatment or a combination of these wavelengths with ease at any time.
Meanwhile, the SaunaMAX Pro offers the ability to get red light therapy and sauna treatment simultaneously.