Do you have a wound that won’t heal? This frustrating and potentially dangerous condition may persist despite proper wound care. And while the human body has miraculous self-healing capabilities, sometimes the healing process is interrupted. In this article, we will explore natural remedies for wounds that won’t heal, and introduce red light therapy as a remedy that also addresses the underlying conditions that prevent healing.
Why Some Wounds Don’t Heal
Wounds that haven’t healed within eight weeks are considered chronic wounds. They typically arise from poor circulation, a weak immune system, or complications from chronic diseases such as diabetes.
Complications that Prevent Healing
In addition to proper wound care, it’s important to address the underlying conditions that interfere with the body’s natural healing process.
Slow wound healing could be caused by:
- Poor circulation of blood and lymph. People with diabetes often suffer from poor circulation, as do those who are obese or who suffer from heart conditions or arterial issues.
- Infections including staph, tetanus, necrotizing fasciitis (a rare bacterial infection that kills soft tissue) can damage or kill cells.
- Chronic stress, which weakens the immune system and interferes with the functioning of the parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for the body’s repair functions).
- Medicines and treatments including corticosteroids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), chemotherapy, and radiation.
- Lifestyle choices, including smoking and abuse of alcohol and drugs.
- Chronic inflammation, which causes cell-damaging oxidative stress.
- Chronic illnesses, such as cancer and diabetes.
- Mitochondrial dysfunction: Mitochondria are tiny structures inside cells that produce the energy that cells need to function. If mitochondria can't produce enough energy, cells cannot perform their functions. Mitochondrial dysfunction is often caused by chronic inflammation.
- Poor collagen and elastin production.
Most of these impediments can be reversed and the body's natural healing process can be made more efficient.
Conventional chronic wound treatments include:
- Debridement, which is the removal of dead or inflamed tissue using scalpels or other medical instruments, high-pressure water, or even maggots. This often painful process requires local or general anesthesia.
- Compression bandages or stockings, which use pressure to assist the veins in carrying blood back to the heart to improve circulation to the injured area.
- Wound dressings, especially those that contain hormone-like substances called growth factors, promote cell growth while keeping the area protected and clean.
- Antibiotics to kill bacteria; the risk is that surviving bacteria could become antibiotic-resistant.
- Painkillers along with wound dressings that contain ibuprofen (an NSAID).
- Skin grafts are useful for large wounds that cannot close on their own. Skin is taken from another part of the body and transplanted onto the wound. Sometimes, the treatment uses synthetic skin along with human cells.
Conventional treatments generally don't address the underlying cause of slow-healing wounds. This is where red light therapy and other natural remedies come in.
Red Light Therapy for Slow-Healing Wounds
Red light therapy is a natural and safe way to support and speed up the body’s natural wound healing process. Also known as low-level light therapy (LLLT) or photobiomodulation (PBM), red light therapy is an effective treatment for skin health, muscle recovery, neuropathy, and wound care.
The term “red light therapy” refers to both red and near-infrared (NIR) wavelengths of light, which are used to stimulate beneficial biological processes. The wavelengths with the most widely studied therapeutic value include red light, from 630 nanometers (nm) to 660nm; and NIR, from 810nm to 850nm.
The power of red light therapy was first discovered in the late 1980s by NASA scientists who were studying ways to grow plants in space. The scientists tending the plants found that their hand wounds healed faster when exposed to red and NIR LED lights.
This accidental discovery sparked interest in using light to improve human health. To date, thousands of independent studies and scientific papers have demonstrated the effectiveness of red light therapy.
How Red Light Works
When red or NIR light absorbs into the skin, it stimulates the mitochondria inside cells to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the primary cellular fuel. This energy boost energizes cells, creating a ripple effect: as individual cells work better, they improve the functioning of various bodily systems that work together to support wound healing.
When you are wounded, your body goes through several stages of healing. The healing process may be interrupted or delayed during any of these stages.
Stage 1: All Hands on Deck!
After any injury, the body’s immune system quickly mobilizes to stop the bleeding (if any). Simultaneously, the area experiences an inflammatory response, which involves swelling, tenderness, the release of fluids, and redness. These symptoms signal that the body is protecting the wound from infection.
What Can Go Wrong in Stage 1 and How Red Light Can Help
- A weak immune system can lead to a weak acute (short-term) inflammatory response that makes the wound vulnerable to infection.
- If the inflammatory response persists and becomes chronic, it will damage cells and prevent healing.
Red light therapy supports stage 1 healing through:
Improved Mitochondrial Functioning
If you have ever gone to work jet-lagged, you know that even copious amounts of coffee can’t bust through a tired fog. You can try, but you can’t give your best. It’s the same on a cellular level. Boosting cellular energy can support the healing process.
- This was revealed during a 2005 study by researchers at the Russian Academy of Sciences. They discovered that red and NIR light interacts with photosensitive chromophores within the cells’ mitochondria, stimulating the production of ATP.
- Other research has also shown how boosting cellular energy supports healing, such as a 2008 review by researchers from the University of California, San Diego. They found that red light stimulated mitochondrial functioning, leading to improved normal cellular functioning and cell proliferation.
Stem Cell Activation
Red light activates stem cells in the bone marrow, which causes the cells to mobilize to the site of the injury. This is important because emerging cells take cues from their neighbors; if new cells take on the characteristics of damaged cells, then they will function as damaged cells. Sending in healthy cells is required to “teach” the emerging cells to adopt the desired characteristics of healthy cells.
Stage 2: Tissue Repair and Rebuilding
Once the immediate danger has passed, the body shifts its resources to tissue growth and regeneration. New capillaries (tiny blood and lymph vessels) are created to bring oxygen, nutrients, and white blood cells to the wound and remove waste.
The body also puts collagen production into overdrive to close the wound and form the structure of new tissue.
What Can Go Wrong In Stage 2 and How Red Light Can Help
Normal, healthy tissue is a neat latticework of collagen proteins. When the body is wounded, however, its priority is to close the wound ASAP, no matter the aesthetic or functional outcome. This is why a skin wound will scar. While there is no way to prevent scarring, red light can minimize scar tissue by supporting the regrowth of normal tissue.
Reduced Chronic Inflammation
Reducing inflammation through Stage 2 will allow cells to function as they should.
- Dr. Michael R. Hamblin, one of the world’s foremost experts in red light therapy, wrote in a 2017 paper about the inflammation-reducing effect of red light. These findings (from various animal studies on wound healing, brain injury, and other ailments) are, according to Dr. Hamblin, particularly significant concerning chronic non-healing wounds.
- Dr. Hamblin co-authored a study in 2018 that found oxidative stress (which is caused by inflammation) directly affects the metabolic activity of cells. He also found that when cells with oxidative stress were irradiated with near-infrared light, there was an increase in ATP.
- In a 2014 study of patients with diabetic foot ulcers, researchers from the University of Johannesburg in South Africa found that light therapy had anti-inflammatory and protective effects on cells damaged by diabetes.
- Red light therapy has also been shown effective in stimulating the healing of skin wounds by decreasing inflammation, increasing collagen production, and angiogenesis, in which new blood vessels form from pre-existing vessels.
- Another double-blind, placebo-controlled study found light therapy to be an effective treatment for non-healing leg ulcers. After a total of 30 rounds of light therapy, patients reduced the size of their ulcers by 75.6%, while the placebo group’s ulcers were only reduced in size by 15.3%.
Overall, red light therapy has been shown to have positive effects on non-healing ulcers as well as supporting the body’s natural healing processes.
Increased Collagen and Elastin Production
Red light simulates normal functioning in fibroblasts, the cells responsible for collagen and elastin synthesis. Increasing fibroblast proliferation increases and normalizes collagen and elastin production. This is one of the more widely studied benefits of red light.
Collagen is a protein responsible for the structure of the tissue. Elastin is a protein that gives skin its elasticity and allows for normal joint movement. Boosting both promotes healing and minimizes the formation and appearance of scars.
- A 2014 review by Dr. Hamblin confirmed that red light increased collagen production throughout the body.
- Also in 2014, a controlled trial by German researchers found significant increases in collagen density in the skin after treatment with red light.
- A 2015 study found that red light decreased the proliferation of keloid fibroblasts (keloids are the raised, tough scars that can inhibit joint movement).
- A 2017 study found that red light treatments increased collagen regeneration that, in turn, led to thicker cartilage.
- In a 2013 study by researchers from Greece, patients with meniscus tears treated with red light experienced significantly less pain than the control group.
Boosting the circulatory system (blood) and the lymphatic system (lymph) supports proper healing. According to a 2017 study by Austrian researchers, red light promotes the proliferation of endothelial cells, which make up capillaries in both the cardiovascular and lymphatic systems.
How to Treat Minor Open Wounds With Red Light at Home
Serious wounds should always be treated by a doctor. For minor wounds that are slow to heal, you can use LED panels to administer red and NIR light therapy in the comfort of home.
Here’s what you need to know about using red light therapy for treating minor wounds. We recommend several 10- to 20-minute treatments each week until the wound has healed.
- Give your body the support it needs through a combination of red light therapy, adequate rest, good nutrition, hydration, and stress relief.
- Use a light therapy LED panel that delivers high light energy output; hand-held wands and other battery-operated devices are not powerful enough. The light needs to be intense enough to “push” light photons into the lower layers of skin and underlying tissue.
- Use an LED panel that delivers a combination of red and NIR light. Wound healing happens at the surface of the skin all the way down to the internal organs and bones.
The PlatinumLED BIO series, for example, lets you choose 660nm (red) and 850nm (NIR) wavelengths, which you can use individually or simultaneously in a 50/50 ratio.
The PlatinumLED BIOMAX series uses five different red and NIR wavelengths in a proprietary ratio based on the latest research into red light, to ensure every layer of the wound is treated by both red and NIR light.
Click the following link to learn more about PlatinumLED’s FDA-approved, medical-grade light therapy panels.
Other Natural Remedies for Slow-Healing Wounds
There are a handful of natural (non-medical) treatments that could support healing while also offering relief from pain.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
This treatment involves entering a special chamber and breathing pure oxygen in a high-pressure environment to increase blood oxygen levels. According to the Mayo Clinic, when the blood carries extra oxygen throughout the body, it helps fight bacteria and stimulates the release of growth factors and stem cells, which promote healing.
Negative Pressure Wound Therapy
Also called vacuum-assisted closure or VAC therapy, negative pressure therapy involves covering the wound with an airtight dressing attached to a pump that continuously sucks fluid out of the wound. The resulting negative pressure increases blood flow to the wound and helps keep it moist. The downside of this treatment is that it limits mobility, changing the dressing can be painful, and the pump generates noise, which can interfere with sleep.
Ultrasound therapy uses high-frequency sound waves via a liquid medium to facilitate healing by providing debridement and cleansing to the wound site. The treatment is given by doctors.
Electromagnetic therapy uses weak electromagnetic waves through the application of magnets close to the wound. Since blood naturally contains iron, magnets can stimulate circulation to the area. The treatment increases ATP concentration in skin cells, promotes healing, and reduces swelling. To date, however, there are no FDA-approved electromagnetic devices for use in wound healing.
Tea Tree Oil
Melaleuca oil, better known as tea tree oil, is a natural antiseptic that comes from the melaleuca tree, which is native to Australia. The oil is applied topically and has long been known for killing bacteria and fungi.
Honey is an ancient healing remedy often used in wound care treatment.
- Honey has an acidic pH, which encourages the release of oxygen from the blood and reduces the enzymes that impair healing, known as proteases.
- The sugar in honey naturally pulls water out of damaged tissues, which reduces swelling and allows greater flow of lymph to cleanse the wound of toxins and impurities. These sugars also pull water from bacterial cells, slowing down the rate at which they multiply.
- Honey has an antibacterial effect and can reduce the presence of dangerous Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin-resistant Enterococci (VRE) bacteria.
Curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. Turmeric is often used much like ibuprofen to reduce pain and inflammation. Turmeric can be applied topically as a paste, or ingested as a capsule or powder.
Aloe Vera Gel
The leaves of the aloe vera plant contain a mineral- and vitamin-rich gel-like substance that contains glucomannan, which promotes cellular regeneration, reduced inflammation, and collagen production. Aloe vera gel can be applied directly to the wound.
Garlic contains allicin, a compound with antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties that are believed to enhance cellular growth.
Coconut oil contains monolaurin, a fatty acid known for its antimicrobial effects. The oil is applied topically to reduce the risk of infection.
Heal Wounds Quickly and Effectively with Red Light
Like many natural remedies, red light therapy works from the inside out, managing the factors that inhibit healing in chronic wounds and supporting the reconstruction of normal healthy tissue. At the same time, it helps manage pain.
These natural remedies for wounds that won’t heal offer hope that you can get back to normal life without pain and discomfort. And be sure to check out the other ways that red light can support whole-body wellness, in our website’s Learn section.