Do you have varicose veins or spider veins? If so, you may be wondering what you can do about them. Varicose veins are unattractive, and sometimes painful, and they could lead to more serious health problems.
Meanwhile, those with spider veins often look for ways to get them reduced or removed.
If at-home remedies don’t work and you don’t want to undergo surgery, other treatment options are available. Among these, Red light therapy has shown promise in treating spider veins and varicose veins. This simple therapy is non-invasive, treats a variety of other ailments as well, and can be administered easily from the comfort of home.
In this article, we discuss varicose veins in greater detail and provide guidelines for red light therapy treatment.
What Are Varicose Veins?
Varicose veins are veins near the surface of the skin that have become overfilled with blood. They appear swollen, raised, and twisted, with red or bluish-purple coloring.
Varicose veins appear on the legs because the veins in the legs must work against gravity to pump blood back to the heart. When you move, the muscles in the lower legs contract and act like pumps to push blood toward the heart.
Inside the veins are tiny valves that prevent blood from flowing backwards. When these valves malfunction and don't prevent blood from flowing, this creates a build-up of blood causing swelling and disfigurement from the increased pressure.
Symptoms of Varicose Veins
Varicose veins and spider veins are related, but not the same.
The misshapen sausage-like appearance of varicose veins may be what bothers you most. Typically, people with varicose veins also experience the following:
- Heaviness, pain, burning sensations, and muscle cramps in the legs
- Swelling in the feet and ankles
- Dry, itchy skin
These symptoms typically worsen during warm weather or after prolonged standing or sitting.
Spider veins are much smaller than varicose veins. They are slightly enlarged, blue, purple or red, and somewhat misshapen. You can't feel them on the skin. Pain is not a symptom of spider veins.
Spider veins may also appear on the skin elsewhere on the body, including the face. Varicose veins are usually only found in the legs.
Causes of Varicose Veins
Malfunctioning valves inside the veins cause varicose veins. This may be due to:
Frequently standing or sitting for a long time (cashiers, hair stylists, nurses, teachers, and people with desk jobs are at risk).
Obesity can cause pressure on the circulatory system.
Hormonal fluctuations from puberty, menstruation, birth control pills, pregnancy, and menopausal hormone therapy.
Pregnancy: increased blood volume, hormonal changes, and the pressure of the baby can contribute.
Heavy alcohol use and smoking raise blood pressure and damage the walls of the veins.
Age and genetics are a factor.
Cardiovascular problems can contribute.
Mitochondrial dysfunction (the inability of the cells' mitochondria to produce enough cellular fuel) is also a factor.
Red Light Therapy and Varicose Veins
Red light therapy likely won’t reduce the appearance of varicose veins in the legs. It can, however, support the veins in working as they should and could prevent the formation of future varicose veins.
Red light therapy may reduce the appearance of spider veins on the face. This is according to a study by Italian researchers that used a combination of blue light therapy and red light therapy to reduce spider veins on the facial skin of a patient with rosacea.
Note that blue light therapy is a common acne treatment. Blue light therapy may also ease skin redness, but its absorption is limited to the very outermost layer of skin. Blue light therapy won't work on veins beneath the surface of the skin, but it does have other therapeutic benefits.
The key to more permanent treatment of varicose veins using red light therapy is twofold: increasing circulation and supporting proper functioning of the circulatory system, including the tiny valves within the veins.
Laser Therapy vs. LED Light Therapy
Don’t lasers destroy the veins? Yes, but not all lasers are alike. Some are surgical, while others support the body's biological processes.
Older red light therapy studies used low-level or “cold” lasers to deliver the light photons to the skin. Today, many use light emitting diode (LED) devices, which means that the results are more easily reproducible outside of a medical clinic.
Red light therapy is not the same as laser ablation or any other surgical laser procedure. Red light therapy uses red and near infrared (NIR) wavelengths to support the body’s healing mechanisms in a process similar to photosynthesis in plants.
Both low-level laser therapy (LLLT) and LED light therapy are safe when used within guidelines. They both deliver red and NIR light. The difference in efficacy is negligible. LLLT has a slightly deeper penetration depth, but that is offset by the broader treatment area afforded by light-emitting diode panels.
There are no known side effects or possible burns associated with red (620-660 nanometer or nm) or near-infrared (810-850 nm) wavelengths. Red light therapy sessions are pain-free and easy to administer at home.
Studies are needed on the effects of red light therapy on varicose veins, but several known mechanisms of action may make red light therapy useful in treating existing varicose veins and preventing new ones from developing.
Here’s where this treatment shows promise for varicose veins and spider veins with no side effects.
How Red Light Therapy Promotes Healthy Cell Functioning
There are trillions of cells in the body and billions that work together in any given bodily system.
Mitochondrial dysfunction occurs when a percentage of cells don’t work as they should. It's now coming to light that this condition could be at the heart of a whole host of physical problems.
Mitochondria are tiny organelles within each cell. Their job is to produce cellular energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP).
Mitochondrial dysfunction is often caused by oxidative stress, which is an imbalance of reactive oxygen species (ROS), or “free radicals” and antioxidants. ROS are a normal byproduct of cellular metabolism. They are also necessary for a multitude of physical functions but they must be balanced and modulated by antioxidants.
Oxidative stress leads to inflammation which is an immune process intended to protect the body. However, when oxidative stress isn't managed, inflammation becomes chronic. This can cause the mitochondria in each cell to not produce energy efficiently. The cell then becomes depleted, and can’t function properly.
This sets off a widespread negative chain reaction. Within the circulatory system this could lead to weakened valves in the veins and even weak blood vessel walls that lead to varicose and spider veins.
Dozens of scientific papers and studies confirm the anti-inflammatory properties of red light therapy. Dr. Michael Hamblin, one of the world’s premier light therapy researchers, said, “One of the most reproducible effects of red light therapy is an overall reduction in inflammation.”
As individual cells are revitalized because they are no longer in a constant battle to survive chronic inflammation, their systems will work more efficiently. This is how red light therapy is used to treat various health conditions, by focusing on the root of the problem.
Can this mean that damaged veins could potentially start to function normally after red light therapy treatment, possibly allowing varicose veins to “open up” to restore normal circulation and shrink to normal size? Without supporting research, it’s hard to say; but the potential is there.
To date, there are no studies involving the benefits of therapeutic red light treatments for varicose veins and spider veins. This includes non-thermal light therapy using LED devices and not surgical laser light treatments.
How Red Light Therapy Improves Circulation
Good circulation is essential for health. If you experience symptoms of varicose veins, including pain, cramps, or heaviness in the legs, this can signal poor circulation in your legs.
Red light therapy promotes blood flow by stimulating the proliferation of tiny blood vessels and by supporting the growth of endothelial cells, which form the walls of blood vessels.
In a study that included 40 non-diabetics and 39 diabetics, red light therapy successfully increased blood flow in those suffering from chronic non-healing skin wounds in their lower limbs. The treatment group received red and NIR light treatment. After treatment, both the diabetic and non-diabetic treatment groups saw a significant increase in blood flow.
Red light therapy could also potentially be used to treat varicose veins by supporting healing and restoration of normal vascular functioning.
An animal study found that red light therapy used on mice with heart failure improved cardiac function, reduced pulmonary edema (accumulation of fluid in the lungs), and reduced the extent of perivascular fibrosis (connective tissue deposits around blood vessels).
During the study, cellular energy (adenosine triphosphate, or ATP) levels increased significantly. An increase in cellular metabolism including higher ATP production in human mitochondria is also a widely observed effect of red light therapy.
Four weeks after this experiment, red light therapy improved heart tissue disorders, shrinking abnormally large hearts and thickening abnormally thin vessel walls. The researchers also found a red light-induced reduction of perivascular collagen within the treated veins. This suggests that red light therapy could potentially support opening partially blocked blood vessels.
Red Light Therapy Treatment Solutions for Varicose Veins
Red light therapy can have a number of positive effects on varicose veins. Many of these findings stem from medical practices and clinics, where red light therapy was first popularized in specialized treatments, despite being much more accessible now in the consumer market for at-home treatment.
Photobiomodulation is scientifically proven to support the circulatory system as a whole by stimulating the development of new capillaries and increasing micro-circulation of blood which carry oxygen throughout the body. With the use of PlatinumLED therapy lights individuals can safely experience these profound effects.
Functional Medicine Doctor of Physical Therapy
Dr. Alayna Newton, PT, DPT, FAFS
To recap, red light therapy is a proven anti-inflammatory and promotes blood flow. These hallmark benefits of red light therapy can be used proactively to help prevent the formation of varicose veins.
Powerful light output is the name of the game to enjoy the benefits of LED light therapy. To boost circulation and reduce inflammation, choose a medical-grade panel that emits both red and NIR wavelengths so you can target blood vessels in and beneath the skin. A multi-wavelength approach offers the most comprehensive treatment to each layer of skin as well as the tissues beneath the skin.
The PlatinumLED BIOMAX series panels come in four different sizes so you can choose the panel that works best for your needs, from targeted applications like varicose veins or spider veins, to whole-body wellness.
There’s so much more you can do with red light therapy. Countless studies have demonstrated positive effects of red light for a huge variety of applications: general pain relief, nerve pain in the feet, sports injuries, stretch marks, and more.
Discover more on the PlatinumLED Therapy Lights Learn page.