If you work in the medical sector or suffer from chronic pain, you may have heard of the use of light therapy for pain management. Light therapy is a painless way to treat both chronic pain and acute pain using red or infrared light. But does it really work?
It has been scientifically discovered that red and infrared light can exert specific effects on living cells, with many applications for treating inflammation and wound healing. Infrared light therapy (ILT), in particular, offers pain relief benefits that work for everyone, from athletes to casual practitioners or those with chronic muscle or nerve pain. In this article, we’ll explore red and infrared light therapy and how they work for pain relief.
Red Light Therapy
Red light therapy works with the frequency of red light, visible to the human eye, and easily recognizable. Red light therapy for pain uses a red wavelength of light to penetrate the skin that is free from side effects. It uses low levels of heat that does not hurt or burn the skin, and red light therapy ignores exposing the skin to harmful UV rays. Red light therapy can treat both chronic and temporary inflammation and is therefore useful for treating sports injuries.
Some evidence suggests that red light therapy helps the body’s healing process. Research on red light therapy has shown that it can help reduce inflammation. Red light is believed to be able to penetrate deep enough for the body’s tissues to absorb light. The process breaks down excess nitric oxide and restores natural ATP production. It is also believed to stimulate circulation, deliver more nutrients to cells, and remove waste products more quickly. Healthier tissue has less inflammation, heals faster, and has less pain. Red light therapy can help relieve dementia, dental pain, osteoarthritis, and tendonitis.
Infrared Light Therapy
Infrared light therapy involves exposure to the proper intensity of infrared light so that the body can feel its benefits. The frequency at which infrared light works is invisible to the human eye. It is found alongside red light in the electromagnetic spectrum but penetrates deeper than light in the visible spectrum.
The lower the frequency of the infrared light, the more light can penetrate the tissue. Penetration allows infrared light to promote the body’s natural biological processes for pain relief and healing. Infrared light therapy can help release nitric oxide, inhibit pain signals, reduce inflammation, and upsurge circulation and blood flow to carry oxygen and nutrients to painful areas. This means it can treat pain indicators related to deep muscle tissue, bones, and joints.
The Science behind Light Therapy
Red and infrared light therapy use harmless wavelengths of light to penetrate the skin and reach the muscles, nerves, and in some cases, the bones. The light is then absorbed by the cells in your body, especially the photoreceptors in those cells. Then it facilitates several metabolic processes, one of which is the creation of nitric oxide.
Nitric oxide helps relax your arteries, protects your body from free radicals by reducing oxidative stress, prevents platelet clotting, and keeps blood pressure in check. In other words, the molecule facilitates blood flow, which in turn helps your body carry oxygen and other nutrients to your cells. Ultimately, this process helps repair tissue and reduces pain and inflammation.
Unlike harmful ultraviolet light, which can damage skin and prevent cell regeneration, red and infrared are safe, gentle, and virtually painless. Due to safety and efficacy, red and infrared light therapy is used to treat a variety of other conditions as well.
How Does Light Therapy Device Treat Pain
What happens below the surface when you use a red or infrared light therapy device? The light energy penetrates through different layers of the skin to reach deep muscles and nerves. Your cells absorb energy from light and become more active. Blood flow also increases to the area to further support cell growth and regeneration, a combination of activities that help reduce inflammation and repair wounds or injuries.
Infrared light for pain and light therapy, in general, are relatively new concepts in the health and wellness community. As a result, the body of research on its effects is still in its infancy. However, the evidence showing the effectiveness of light therapy increases as interest in the technology increases. These are some of the promising results from the research of the scientific community on red and infrared light therapy.
The journal of Pain Research and Management published a study on infrared therapy for chronic low back pain that followed 40 patients for six years. The patients used portable devices that emitted light in the wavelength range of 800 to 1200 nm. They informed a significant reduction in pain without adverse effects.
Another study, published in the Turkish Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, looked at the impact of red light therapy on spondylitis or inflammatory arthritis of the spine. In the study, patients treated with red light therapy experienced significantly improved activity, function, and quality of life.
The journal Photochemistry and Photobiology published an article that examined the ability of infrared to stimulate nerves and promote wound healing. This study concluded that “nerve cells respond particularly well to infrared radiation.”
While some individuals are still doubtful about the benefits of light therapy for pain, research has shown it is a viable treatment option for all types of conditions. Rarely does this type of treatment have side effects, which is why light therapy has become increasingly popular in recent years.
Whether used unaccompanied or in combination with other therapies like light therapy remains a safe and effective way to improve blood circulation and promote healing while relieving pain.