Red Light Therapy can significantly reduce pain in the following ways:

1. Reduces Inflammation

2. Increases Cellular Energy Production

3. Increased Blood Flow

4. Activates stem cells 

Red Light Therapy is an all encompassing full body treatment that heals many levels, but these four effects have been proven to be direct pain reducers. This article explains just how extensive the body healing process is and shed some more light on this hidden medical gem. 

How Does Red Light Therapy Work?

Red and Near InfraRed (NIR) light helps balance the body’s inflammatory effects by boosting cellular energy and cutting down on oxidative stress. The absorption of these light wavelengths by the mitochondria in our cells creates ATP (adenosine triphosphate) energy, which enhances the cells by increasing function, speeding healing and reducing inflammation & discomfort, this is demonstrated in numerous peer-reviewed studies. [1,2,3,4,5]

Red light therapy also supports pain, discomfort and inflammation management by improving blood flow to damaged tissues.  When cells receive the healthy light they need, the whole body has the potential to work more efficiently, with improved circulation and reduced inflammation.

Pain

Pain is the result of sensory receptors throughout the body sending 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 burn, cut, a broken bone, 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 an extended period of time, 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 

As shown above, pain is highly complex and subjective and treatment can be challenging, especially since long-term use of medications can have many serious side effects.

Many clinical studies point to near-infrared as a potential treatment for pain from a variety of conditions, including osteoarthritis and other joint pain, bone breaks, muscle injury, connective tissue disorders, nervous system disorders, and spinal disorders.

How Does Red Light Treat Pain?

Most mainstream pain-killing medications block our perception of pain. Red Light Therapy doesn’t. Rather, it works at the cellular level to promote optimal cell functioning that results in a healthier, pain-free body. It’s effectively healing the cells, rather than deceiving the brain into thinking that it is being healed. 

When going for a Red Light Therapy session at Red Lab, where Red and Near Infrared lights are combined in our treatments, 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 and mentally 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, releasing this constant underlying mental tension.

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 all types of light for different reasons. Red light and NIR light is just the healing light. 

Different ways red light therapy reduces pain:

1. Reduced Inflammation

Red light reduces inflammation by stimulating cellular repair and regeneration. Inflammation is beneficial for initial wound protection, and 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 that initial response of swelling, heat, discomfort, and redness at the site of the injury. This inflammation serves its protective and cautionary purpose and should subside 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 this possibly destructive chronic inflammation. NIR light has a special ability to absorb deep into the body’s tissues to positively affect the organs, large muscles, and innermost connective tissue.

2. Increased Cellular Energy Production

Stimulating mitochondrial functioning leads to greater energy production. Energized cells can perform specialised functions at their 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. Your body tissue is made purely from cells that are interconnected. Healing the cells is just another way of saying healing your body. This treatment is completely all encompassing as it is healing each and every block that makes up your body.

3. Increased Blood Flow

Red light stimulates the formation of capillaries, resulting in increased blood flow to the irradiated (treated) area. This increase in blood brings nutrients and oxygen to cells that would not previously be there, 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, bone bruises or internal muscular bleeding.

4. Activation of Stem Cells

Stem cell therapy is invaluable to the medical community as they are master cells. These non-specialised 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 transform 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.

Research-Validated Pain Management for Specific Conditions using Red Light Therapy

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. There is an exponential growing boom in scientific research on this topic and it’s incredible to see the developments first hand.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease that targets healthy joints, causing joint pain, inflammation, and reduced mobility.  A study found that using red light therapy reduced joint 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.  

Osteoarthritis

This degenerative condition 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.

A study of elderly patients found that Red and NIR Light tTreatment 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

Athletes want to resume their sport as soon as possible after injury. This is especially true for elite athletes whose living depends on active participation, however an injury can also put the average person’s fitness goals back considerably, and the lack of gym and running habit that the injury can create can cause many to hang up their training shoes forever. It’s thus imperative to find any means to significantly reduce injury times.

A 2016 study published in the professional journal Laser Therapy showed a significant acceleration of return-to-play after two to six sessions using 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

Neuropathic pain is a damage to the nervous system. 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 effective at reducing this specific pain.

Low Back Pain

Many of us live our lives at a desk, from school to the workplace. We practice extremely unhealthy posture habits. 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. We can all resonate with this feeling and doing all that we can to prevent having to grow haunched and in constant pain should be on the top of our list of priorities.  

Scar Pain

Scars that reside and form on top of joints can be painful, downright annoying 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 scars 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 Quickly Does It Work?

As incredible and beneficial as red light therapy is, it is not an instant fix for pain. Rather than managing symptoms but ignoring the underlying causes of pain, Red Light Therapy enhances 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. At Red Lab we recommend 3 months of intensive treatment courses (3 x a week). This time frame is a solid benchmark for the Red and NIR light to have performed many of its healing functions, before transitioning to a maintenance plan to constantly supplement your body and improve general well being and standard of living.

Sources and References:

[1] Servetto N, Cremonezzi D, et al. Evaluation of inflammatory biomarkers associated with oxidative stress and histological assessment of low-level laser therapy in experimental myopathy. Lasers in Surgery and Medicine. 2010 Aug.

[2] Lee JH, Chiang MH, et al. Anti-inflammatory effects of low-level laser therapy on human periodontal ligament cells: in vitro study.  Lasers in Medical Science. 2018 Apr.

[3] Douris P, Southard V, et al. Effect of Phototherapy on delayed onset muscle soreness.  Photomedicine and Laser Surgery. 2006 June.

[4] Poorpezeshk N, Ghoreishi SK, et al. Early Low-Level Laser Therapy Improves the Passive Range of Motion and Decreases Pain in Patients With Flexor Tendon Injury. Photomedicine and Laser Surgery. 2018 Oct.

[5] Li S, Wang C, et al. Efficacy of Low-Level Light Therapy for Treatment of Diabetic Foot Ulcer: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice. 2018 Sep.

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