Ease Your Aches Using Red Light Therapy for Pain
What Is Pain?
Pain is usually a completely natural response to let you know you need to stop a specific behavior.
Pain occurs when sensory receptors throughout the body send a message to the brain via the spinal cord. The brain processes the information and the sensation of pain arises as an emergency self-preservation signal that urges you to remove yourself from danger, stop the actions that caused the pain, and allow the body to heal through rest.
There are three types of pain:
Acute pain is short-term pain that has a specific, known cause, like a broken bone, scraped knee, burns, or a dislocated shoulder. While the pain may be sharp and intense, it gradually goes away as the injury heals.
Chronic pain is pain that lasts longer than six months, and its cause may be known or unknown. Chronic pain takes a real toll on the body in the form of abnormally tense muscles, limited mobility, and low energy. Examples include frequent headaches, low back ache, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and nerve damage.
Neuropathic pain results from damage or malfunction of the nervous system. Misfiring pain signals often result in abrupt pain that seems to come out of nowhere. Diabetes, accidents, infections, spinal nerve compression or inflammation, carpal tunnel syndrome, shingles, MS, Parkinson’s, HIV, and chemotherapy are known causes of neuropathic pain. You may experience feelings like tingling, stabbing, shooting, numbness, burning/freezing, or what feels like electric shocks.
Red Light Therapy for Pain
Because pain is highly complex and subjective, treatment can be challenging, especially since long-term use of medications can have serious side effects.
Red light therapy is also called photobiomodulation, or low level laser therapy. It is natural, effective, and free from side effects, and it has shown great therapeutic potential in clinical trials. NIR—or near-infrared light—is similar to red light therapy, but penetrates a deeper into the body, which we’ll discuss in more depth a bit later.
Many clinical studies point to red light and near-infrared (NIR) light as potential treatments for pain from from a variety of conditions, including osteoarthritis and other joint pain, bone breaks, muscle injury, connective tissue disorders, nervous system disorders, and spinal disorders.
What Is Red Light Therapy?
Red light therapy uses light-emitting diode (LED) devices to expose the skin to concentrated wavelengths of red or NIR light. These are considered part of the visible spectrum of light, although the human eye can’t reliably detect the fully infrared spectrum. Red and NIR light wavelengths are known to benefit the human body as particles of light (photons) pass through the skin into deeper tissues.
When photons enter individual cells, they stimulate mitochondria, which are the cells’ energy centers, thus producing more energy. Scientists believe that energized cells are better able to repair and replicate themselves. By extension, this promotes healing of skin, bone, muscle, and connective tissue.
Unlike ultraviolet light, red light treatment will not burn the skin. You will feel a warming sensation but red light therapy is safe when used as directed.
What Can Be Treated with Red Light?
To date, more than 3,000 research studies have been conducted on red light therapy. Although it should not be considered a cure, red light has shown measurable benefits in treating skin disorders like psoriasis and eczema, reducing visible signs of aging, stimulating hair regrowth, relieving joint pain, boosting the immune system, and achieving weight loss. To read about the broad range of uses for red light therapy, and learn about the research, please visit our blog.
How Does Red Light Treat Pain?
Unlike pain-killing medications, red light therapy doesn’t block our perception of pain. Rather, it works at the cellular level to promote optimal cell functioning that results in a healthier, pain-free body.
When treated with red light therapy, you may experience some immediate relief from the soothing warmth emitted by high-output LED devices. You can feel the warmth penetrating your skin and muscles, and this warmth calms your mind and makes you feel physically relaxed. A positive mental attitude helps minimize the perception of pain. Muscle relaxation also sends a signal to the brain that there is no danger, and that the fight or flight response (which often kicks in when you’re stressed or hurting) can ease up.
This is important since the parasympathetic nervous system, or the body’s “rest and digest” mechanism, is deactivated during times of stress. Since stress can amplify pain, it’s important to practice stress management as part of pain management.
As research has shown, the long-term benefits of red light therapy occur at the cellular level. The human body is incredibly responsive to light: that’s why we often don’t feel awake until the sun’s blue wavelengths hit our retinas and why it’s hard to fall asleep when we’ve been staring at our phones for hours after dark. And much like photosynthesis in plants, our bodies get energy from light: specifically red and NIR light.
Red light reduces inflammation by stimulating cellular repair and regeneration. A relaxed inflammatory response can accelerate healing. While acute inflammation is a necessary part of the healing process (without it, wounds or cuts would not heal), chronic inflammation and dysfunctional inflammation cause delays in healing.
Acute inflammation is what you recognize as swelling, heat, discomfort, and redness at the site of the injury. This inflammation subsides as the injury heals. Chronic inflammation, however, can lead to autoimmune disorders in which the body is attacked by its own immune system.
NIR light is especially beneficial in reducing chronic inflammation. It absorbs deeper into the body’s tissues than red light to positively affect the organs, large muscles, and innermost connective tissue.
Increased Cellular Energy Production
Stimulating mitochondrial functioning leads to greater energy production. Energized cells can perform specialized functions at peak levels, and successfully replicate and perform repairs to the body as intended. When cells are at their healthiest, this leads to accelerated healing of injured or inflamed areas. Red light can stimulate cellular energy in the skin and subcutaneous (just beneath the skin) areas. NIR light is beneficial for stimulating cells deeper within the body.
Increased Collagen Production
Collagen is a protein that gives skin its structure, and it is also present in muscle and connective tissue. During the healing process after an injury, separated tissue is “stitched” together using a latticework that is formed primarily with collagen.
Red light therapy has been used for many years to stimulate collagen production for treating signs of aging, as well as various chronic skin disorders, but it may also be effective in repairing injury to internal tissues. Even a broken pelvis can be rejoined with a collagen-dense fibrous structure rather than new bone.
Increased Blood Flow
Red light stimulates the formation of capillaries, resulting in increased blood flow to the irradiated (treated) area. This brings nutrients and oxygen to cells, and removes waste materials that could interfere with the healing process. If you have ever seen a dramatic reduction in bruising once you’ve resumed vigorous exercise, you can see how quickly increased blood flow induces healing. Visible bruising (just below the skin’s surface) can be treated using red light, whereas NIR light’s deeper absorption makes it ideal for treating deep muscle or bone bruises.
Activation of Stem Cells
Stem cells are the body’s amazing master cells. These non-specialized cells are present in an inactive state throughout the body. When they are needed, like in the event of an injury, infection, or cell damage from inflammation, stem cells are transported via the bloodstream to the affected area. There they magically develop into any cell that’s needed. One proven use for red and NIR light therapy is activating stem cell production in the bone marrow to support the healing process.
Now that you see how red light therapy can be used to manage the underlying causes of a variety of conditions, let’s explore specific applications where it may be beneficial.
Research-Validated Pain Management for Specific Conditions
This section covers results specific to conditions that have been studied by researchers. While evidence of therapeutic benefits is growing, more research is needed to thoroughly examine the effects of red light on other conditions. To date, the relatively small body of peer-reviewed research shows red light therapy to have great promise for long-term use.
Rheumatoid arthritis affects an estimated 31 million people in the United States. It is an autoimmune disease that attacks healthy joints, causing joint pain, inflammation, and reduced mobility. Rheumatoid arthritis primarily affects the fingers, wrists, small foot joints, and toes.
One study found that red light therapy reduced pain by 70% in rheumatoid arthritis sufferers compared with the placebo group. Patients also saw significant increases in palm flexibility and a reduction in morning stiffness.
According to the CDC, more than 32.5 million people in the United States suffer from osteoarthritis. This degenerative condition, which is often called the “wear and tear disorder,” is caused by damage or breakdown of joint cartilage between bones. It primarily affects the fingers, thumbs, hips, knees, toes, and spine, and can be very painful.
One study of elderly patients found that red and NIR light treatment achieved remarkable results in reducing osteoarthritis knee pain. In total, 50 patients self-administered light therapy to both sides of the knee in two 15-minute sessions every day for 10 days. Of the 50, 15 used red light, 18 use near-infrared, and 17 used a placebo treatment. Both of the non-placebo groups showed a 50% reduction in pain over the control.
Return-to-Play After Injury
Most athletes want to resume their sport as soon as possible after injury. This is true whether they’re elite athletes whose living depends on active participation, motivated fitness enthusiasts, or “weekend warriors” who exercise for fun and to improve their health and fitness.
A 2016 study published in the professional journal Laser Therapy showed a significant acceleration of return-to-play after two to six sessions using 830nm NIR light on the site of the injury. The average return-to-play of injured athletes (based on a wide range of injuries) treated with irradiation was 9.6 days, compared with 19.23 days in the placebo group. The researchers found that the 830nm waves enhanced blood flow, relaxed muscle spasms, reduced inflammation, and reduced the amount of time the participants felt pain.
Neuropathic pain is chronic pain that results from damage to the nervous system. Although its exact prevalence is not known, it is estimated to have a prevalence ranging between 3% and 17% of the U.S. population. Neuropathic pain can be severe enough to lead to loss of mobility and a diminished quality of life.
Sciatica is one example of a neuropathic pain condition. It refers to pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve, which branches from the lower back through the hips and buttocks and down the legs. Often due to chronic constriction injury (compression of the sciatic nerve), sciatica causes inflammation, numbness, loss of strength in one or both legs, and sharp stabbing or dull pain.
A 2014 study by a team of researchers from Iran focused on sciatic pain in rats. The researchers found that both the 660nm (red light) and 980nm (infrared) wavelengths were quite effective at reducing pain.
Low Back Pain
An estimated 80% of the U.S. population has at some point suffered from low back pain. Most often this results from some type of injury, but because of the sedentary nature of many people’s lives, recurring or chronic back pain is becoming more common. Low back issues can also lead to knee pain as sufferers try to adjust their body mechanics to alleviate discomfort in the lumbar area.
One study by Canadian researchers focused on infrared therapy for low back pain. They found that near-infrared light (over 800nm) and infrared light (up to 1200nm) resulted in reduced chronic low back pain.
Scars that form on joints can often be painful, and result in limited mobility. Softening scars and stimulating the growth of normal skin tissue can help ease pain over time, as well as improve the scar’s appearance. A 2010 clinical trial involved three patients who had scars from acne or surgery. After treatment with NIR light therapy for 30 days, they showed significant improvements.
How Do You Treat Pain Using Red Light?
Fortunately, you don’t have to visit a doctor or physical therapist to treat pain naturally using an LED device that emits therapeutic red and NIR light. The key is to invest in a high-output device that delivers the intensity of light needed for deep absorption into the body’s tissues.
Also, make sure that the spectrum of light falls within the “therapeutic window” (ideally, 630nm, 660nm, 810nm, 830nm, and 850nm). Remember, red light effectively treats surface injuries, but to get deeper into the internal tissues, you need the extra boost of NIR.
Each wavelength has its own unique benefits. An LED device such as PlatinumLED’s BIOMAX series delivers extremely high-output red and near-infrared light in a proprietary combination designed for maximum therapeutic effect. Several 15- to 20-minute sessions per week for one to four months can ease your pain and help get your quality of life back
Before self-treating with any light therapy device, you should consult a medical professional to ensure safety and be sure that you’re not misdiagnosing any condition.
Read more about how to use red light therapy at home.
How Fast Does It Work?
As incredible and beneficial as red light is, it is not an instant fix for pain. Rather than managing symptoms but ignoring the underlying causes of pain, red light therapy can enhance your health on a cellular level. In other words, it can alleviate chronic discomfort as the body “resets” itself as a result of the bioactive properties of red and NIR light.
Many chronic conditions can take several months of consistent irradiation with red light therapy before pain lessens or disappears. However, the likelihood of the chronic condition returning may also be reduced. You may also see faster and more positive results by combining red and NIR light, especially when treating conditions such as arthritis or chronic knee pain.
Kick Pain to the Curb with Red Light Therapy!
If you’re concerned about potentially dangerous side effects of over-the-counter and prescription medications, consider trying a health-enhancing treatment that is natural, non-invasive, safe, effective and enjoyable to use. Experience the pleasant and soothing effects of deep penetrating heat, as well as cellular-level stimulation of the body’s natural healing processes for effective pain management. It can help you get back to enjoying the activities you love. And don’t be surprised if a happy side-effect of red light therapy is a more youthful appearance to go with your newly pain-free body.
To find out more or purchase the PlatinumLED line of high quality LED devices, click here. And be sure to read our FAQ page for more detailed information about the amazing wellness benefits of red light.