If you are experiencing nerve pain due to injury, diabetes, cancer, shingles, HIV, or other conditions—and you don’t want to take pain relief drugs long-term—then it’s worth looking into red light therapy and other natural nerve pain remedies.
Nerve pain, which is also known as neuropathic pain, is a severe condition, and finding natural nerve pain relief is vital. Any level of chronic nerve pain adversely affects your quality of life. Whether you have bursts of pain that feel like electrical shocks, burning, prickling, or dull pain, nerve pain amplifies the misery of any chronic condition. It can grind you down and lead to anxiety and depression.
In this article we’ll review a few promising treatments as well as natural remedies for nerve pain, but first, here’s a short overview of common causes.
What Causes Nerve Pain, and How Can Red Light Help?
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, well over 20 million Americans suffer from peripheral neuropathic pain, or pain that affects the peripheral nerves. These nerves reside outside the central nervous system (CNS), which is made up of the brain and spinal cord.
The peripheral nervous system (PNS) is a communication network of nerves between the CNS and other parts of the body, including the feet, hands, digestive system, heart, and face. The PNS communicates with the CNS to allow for contraction of the heart, muscle movement, and other physical functions.
The most common causes of neuropathic pain are injury or disease, but nerve damage can also be caused by chronic inflammation, chronic stress, infections, hormone imbalances, genetic disorders, exposure to toxins, and vitamin deficiencies.
The Connection Between Nerves and Pain
Pain is an important function in the body because it helps keep you safe. If you burn your hand on a hot skillet, the pain immediately signals you to move your hand away from the danger. If signaling between nerve endings and the brain is disrupted, this disruption can severely distort your perceptions of pain (numbing or greatly amplifying it), and even disrupt the reflex to pull your hand away from the skillet.
There are three ways in which nerve signaling can be disrupted:
- Message errors (feeling intense pain from something that normally feels good)
- Inappropriate signaling (interference between messages from various nerves)
- Loss of signaling (no messages getting through)
Symptoms and severity of neuropathic pain can vary from person to person.
When a nerve is damaged, severed, or compressed, you may become hypersensitive to sensations that are normally not painful. You may also experience numbness, pricking, tingling, or loss of reflexes. Serious cases of nerve damage can affect breathing and digestion and may cause paralysis.
Either way, pain relief is important for your quality of life. Common and natural treatments for neuropathic pain include:
- Anticonvulsants: Anti-seizure medications that sometimes offer nerve pain relief;
- Antidepressants: Effective on diabetic neuropathy, nerve damage from shingles, and other types of nerve damage;
- Opioids: Block pain signals but are known to be extremely addictive;
- Topical treatments: Analgesics, or pain-relieving creams, gels, or rubs;
- Electrical stimulation: Can inhibit pain signaling;
- Steroid injections: Steroids have neurotoxic effects and must be used with extreme caution.
Although one or more of these methods may help with pain relief, none can treat widespread nerve pain; i.e., they address certain types of nerves, but not all. There is also a risk of side effects, especially with long-term use of opioids and antidepressants.
What’s needed is systemic support that encourages the regrowth of normal nerve cells—and that is where red light therapy comes in.
Red Light Therapy Basics
The origins of light therapy date back thousands of years, to a time when ancient healers used the healing powers of the sun to cure various ailments. Today, scientists understand that the human body is highly photosensitive, especially to natural sunlight, which is made up of a rainbow of various wavelengths of light.
Each of these wavelengths has a unique effect on the body. Blue light, for instance, is highly energizing and also has antibacterial properties that make it effective at preventing and treating acne. Green light has been shown to reduce the intensity and frequency of migraine headaches.
The term “red light therapy” encompasses red light, with wavelengths ranging from 630 nanometers (nm) to 660nm; and near-infrared (NIR), with wavelengths ranging from 810nm to 850nm. Red and NIR wavelengths absorb into the skin where they stimulate beneficial biological processes at the cellular level. The result is an amazing range of therapeutic health benefits.
If red light is a part of sunlight, isn’t exposing your skin to sunlight enough to get the same benefits? No. Although sunlight will expose you to small, non-therapeutic amounts of red and near-infrared (NIR) wavelengths, you’ll also be exposed to skin-damaging ultraviolet wavelengths.
Isolating red wavelengths in a panel outfitted with LED lights is the safest and natural way to treat neuropathy without knowing side effects.
How Red Light Therapy Works
The first step is increasing cellular energy production and metabolism.
Through the food chain, nutrients are broken down into substances that mitochondria (tiny energy producers inside cells) synthesize into adenosine triphosphate (ATP). When cells are damaged, however, mitochondria sometimes struggle to perform this function. This leads to depleted cells and a chain of subpar performance.
Mitochondrial dysfunction is a term that relates to the inability of the mitochondria to synthesize ATP in sufficient quantities. You can’t function at your best when you’re jet-lagged and hungry; it’s much the same on the cellular level.
Red light therapy gives your cells a boost. Red light photons absorb into light-sensitive chromophores in the cells, which stimulates the mitochondria to produce more ATP.
This happens whether you are exposing your skin to red or NIR wavelengths. The difference is that red light could be used for skin-level treatments, whereas NIR light, with its longer wavelengths, can penetrate deeper into the body. An LED panel that emits both red and NIR light can reach nerves in the outer body as well as deeper in your tissues.
How Red Light Can Potentially Ease Neuropathic Pain
Red light as natural neuropathy relief can be an effective alternative. There are two important elements of neuropathic pain that can be addressed by red light therapy: chronic inflammation and cell growth.
We’ll discuss chronic inflammation first—since it is often a contributing factor to the underlying causes of neuropathic pain. Inflammation can also cause nerve damage.
Inflammation and Peripheral Neuropathic Pain
Any cell that is chronically inflamed is essentially struggling to survive and cannot perform its functions.
This does not mean that all inflammation is bad; acute inflammation is a natural and temporary part of the healing process. When you sprain your ankle, for instance, it becomes tender, red, and swollen, which is the body’s way of signaling the immune system that tissue has been damaged and needs healing. This kind of inflammation is temporary, and symptoms subside as the injury heals.
If the inflammatory process becomes overactive or lingers beyond the healing phase, the immune system starts to attack healthy tissues, organs, and nerves. Known as chronic inflammation, this starts a chain reaction of damaged nerve cells that do not communicate as they should, causing serious disruptions in the messaging chain between the PNS and CNS.
A 2017 article by Michael Hamblin—one of the world’s premier researchers on red light—states that red light reduces oxidative stress in cells, which decreases inflammation. The article discusses neuropathic pain in animal studies, which found that red light treatments reduced nerve pain and positively affected tissues and organs even outside of the treatment area.
A 2010 study, which was published in the Journal of Orthopaedic Science, focused on the anti-inflammatory effects of red light on nerve regeneration. The study revealed that 660nm wavelengths promoted nerve regeneration by acting as an antioxidant, which reduced inflammation.
Reducing inflammation is the first step toward normalizing nerve functioning. Another way red light can help is by stimulating the growth of nerve cells.
Nerve Cell Growth
One characteristic of the PNS leads to a more hopeful prognosis for sufferers of diabetic neuropathy and other types of nerve pain: Unlike the cells in the CNS, peripheral nerve cells continue to grow throughout your life.
According to a 2018 article co-authored by Hamblin and researcher Shang-Ru Tsai of Taiwan, nerve cells respond favorably to red light, especially to NIR wavelengths. This suggests that nerve cells within the PNS could be regenerated—which is profound. A treatment that can stimulate nerve cell growth could potentially stimulate the restoration of normal cell signaling; once this signaling is restored, nerve pain could spontaneously disappear.
If a nerve cell is still alive, red light therapy can stimulate healing. Since part of a cell’s function is to replicate, then red light therapy may potentially stimulate the regrowth of nerve cells in the treated area. This can lead to restoration of normal nervous system communications, restoration of normal pain signaling, and reduction of nerve pain.
But stimulating healthy nerve cell growth isn’t the complete picture. In damaged nerves, there is a gap between nerve cells and nerve fibers known as axons. Closing this gap requires two specialized types of cells: Schwann cells and fibroblasts.
Schwann cells are specialized cells within the PNS that mobilize in response to injury. They form the myelin sheath, which is a protective membrane that forms around nerves that allows for rapid signaling from the individual nerve to the greater nervous system. Also, Schwann cells play a role in the development, maintenance, function, and regeneration of nerve cells.
According to a 2012 paper published in the Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology, red light stimulates Schwann cell proliferation.
Schwann cells can’t do all of this without assistance from fibroblasts, which are the cells found in connective tissue. These cells are the precursors to collagen, the fibrous protein that makes up most of the skin, and are instrumental in the restoration of normal nerve cell functioning.
In the case of injury, fibroblasts signal Schwann cells to form a connective cord between nerve cells and axons. This, in turn, stimulates the growth of more axons and stimulates the production of the myelin sheath that will protect the newly formed or restored nerves.
A 2018 study on the effects of NIR light on human skin found red light to have a stimulating effect on fibroblast growth in human skin.
Increased circulation is essential to healing underlying conditions that could be contributing to nerve damage and chronic neuropathic pain. Circulation refers to both the cardiovascular and the lymphatic system: The cardiovascular system brings nutrients and oxygen throughout the body, and the lymphatic system removes waste.
In a 2017 study on circulatory dysfunction and diabetic neuropathy, red light was found to stimulate dilation in both healthy and diabetic blood vessels. This is important because diabetes impedes circulation; and red light naturally stimulates vasodilation as well as the growth of new endothelial cells, which are the cells that make up tiny blood and lymph capillaries. If your neuropathy is caused by diabetes, red light is one way to enhance circulation, with a healing effect.
Another study monitored the effects of red light on diabetics with chronic (non-healing) limb wounds. The study revealed that there was a significant increase in blood flow in the group treated with red light therapy.
Can red light therapy relieve nerve pain? Potentially yes. While red light therapy has not been officially approved by the FDA for such applications, it. A 2015 study on neuropathic pain due to sciatic nerve injury found that red light therapy (specifically, NIR light) effectively reduced perception of nerve pain and promoted the regeneration of damaged nerve cells.
A 2012 study found that NIR wavelengths can ease nerve pain in sufferers of carpal tunnel syndrome, which is defined as median nerve compression in the wrist. Months after NIR light treatment, all patients who experienced a reduction in nerve pain were still pain-free or had markedly reduced pain.
With all that red light can do to heal the sources of neuropathic pain, wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could apply this therapeutic technique in the comfort of your own home? You can do exactly that.
Using NIR Light at Home to Treat Nerve Pain
You can safely use a powerful red light LED panel from the comfort of your own home. Note that it’s important to use a panel rather than a hand-held wand or other battery-powered devices, for several reasons.
First, you need enough power for the light energy to absorb deeply into the tissues. You also need the coverage provided by a panel since nerve cells are very long, and damage could be present at multiple points along a nerve. The larger the panel, the larger the treatment area.
Another consideration is wavelengths. For best results, choose a panel that delivers both red and NIR wavelengths. This will treat nerve pain in the skin, as well as deeper in the body. The PlatinumLED BIOMAX series of panels offers a proprietary blend of five different red and NIR wavelengths (the most widely studied wavelengths), in the most potent combination.
Once you’re all set up with your panel, all you need is consistency.
We recommend 10- to 20-minute sessions administered three to five times per week to each affected area. You can do a short meditation during this time to decrease stress if you like, since stress heightens the perception of pain.
You may experience some pain relief very quickly, but the best results will start to come after about a month of consistent use. This is because damaged cells take time to regenerate.
How to treat peripheral neuropathy naturally?
Alternative natural remedies for nerve damage from peripheral neuropathy typically take time to yield results because they are often focused on treating the underlying condition rather than just the symptoms. These can include:Massage
Massage can help relieve pinched nerves caused by muscle imbalances; one example is sciatic nerve pain. Massage also boosts circulation and reduces stress.Acupuncture
This ancient Chinese healing art involves the painless insertion of very fine needles just under the skin. Acupuncture can help relieve nerve pain by stimulating the release of endorphins, the body's natural opioid-like painkillers, and by affecting the part of the brain that secretes serotonin, a feel-good chemical.Meditation
Meditation is used to relieve stress and train the mind to shift the focus away from pain signals.Hypnotherapy
A trained hypnotherapist can guide you through relaxation exercises and uses the power of suggestion to alter your perception of pain.Yoga
This ancient practice combines breathing exercises, meditation, and stretching to promote circulation, relieve stress, and correct muscle imbalances that can lead to pinched nerves.Diet
You can find natural pain relief right in your kitchen. Most of the culinary remedies listed here have anti-inflammatory properties.
Like all natural treatments for nerve pain, be sure to consult your doctor first, go slow, and don't assume that one miracle food or therapy will do the trick. The important thing is to eat a variety of natural, healthy foods that are anti-inflammatory and rich in vitamins and minerals that contribute to a healthy nervous system.
Some of these foods also help restore mineral balance in the body, which can help with normal nerve functioning; for example, magnesium deficiency is linked to neurological disorders including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, and migraines.
Here are some common foods that can help promote a healthy-functioning nervous system:
- Blueberries, tart cherries, and strawberries: Phytonutrients found in fresh or frozen berries have anti-inflammatory properties.
- Cayenne pepper: Capsaicin, the compound that gives cayenne peppers their heat, is used to treat pain by stimulating the brain to release endorphins.
- Leafy green vegetables: Spinach, kale, and chard are good sources of magnesium, which is important for normal nerve functioning.
- Raw nuts and pumpkin seeds: These are naturally high in magnesium and other minerals essential to nerve health.
- Turmeric: Known for its anti-inflammatory properties, curcumin (the active compound in turmeric) has been shown to be as effective as NSAIDs in relieving pain.
Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D deficiency have also been implicated in neuropathic pain. Before taking any supplements, however, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor.
The Outlook Is Pain-Free
Combining lifestyle changes with red light therapy and doctor-prescribed medication could be your answer to minimizing nerve pain—while treating the underlying conditions.
Natural remedies for neuropathy have some success in easing nerve pain but again, remember they take time to yield results. Be sure to consult with your doctor before starting any new treatment, especially when you are treating diabetic neuropathy or any chronic pain.
Hundreds of clinical trials and studies have shown red light therapy to be painless, free of side effects, completely natural, and highly effective in treating not only pain but also the underlying conditions.
Read more about red light therapy in the PlatinumLED blog.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Q. What vitamin is best for nerve damage?
Ans: Vitamin b1, known as thiamine, provides nerves with energy to operate, while b6 (pyridoxine) relieves nerve pain. Also, it transmits nerve impulses perfectly. But vitamin b12 plays a vital role; it protects the nerve from damage.
Q. Does apple cider vinegar for nerve pain works?
Ans: Yes, Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) is one of the best home remedies for neuropathic pain.