Suffering from any type of pain, be it from a spontaneous injury like an ankle sprain, or because of chronic pain caused by a condition like arthritis, is miserable. Pain can suck the enjoyment out of everything we love and hold us back and prevent us from living our lives. If you have experienced pain before, it is likely that you have spent hours searching online for effective home remedies or at-home devices that can help you alleviate the pain.
You may be surprised to know that different forms of light therapy have actually been around for thousands of years. More recently, they have been used in clinical settings to treat an array of ailments ranging from acne to back pain. However, although LED light therapy has been used for a while in the clinical setting, it wasn’t until a few years ago that accessible and effective light therapy devices began making their way into our homes.
If you have tried red light therapy in the past or if you want to try something new for your pain, keep reading to find out what light therapy is, how it works, its potential risks, and its uses for chronic pain.
Table Of Contents
- 1 What Is Light Therapy?
- 2 How Does Red Light Therapy Work For Pain?
- 3 Green Light Therapy For Migraines
- 4 Light Therapy For Restless Leg Syndrome
- 5 Is Red Light Therapy Safe?
- 6 How Do I Use An At Home Red Light Therapy Device?
- 7 Other At-Home Treatments For Pain
- 8 Conclusion
What Is Light Therapy?
Light therapy, also called heliotherapy or phototherapy, is a form of treatment that has been used for thousands of years to heal anything from psoriasis to chronic pain. Civilizations such as Ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians used natural light, exposing people to sunshine, to treat various ailments.
Throughout the years light therapy has evolved and we have created machines and devices that use artificial light to treat many conditions. For many years, one of the most common light therapy methods was ultraviolet (UV) light; however, after discovering the link between UV light exposure and skin cancer, other safer methods were studied and implemented.
In 1998, NASA developed a newer kind of light-emitting diode (LED) that was more effective and stable than any previous LED technologies. This new LED technology, when using the correct wavelength and applications has been proven to be effective for wound healing, skin rejuvenation, pain treatment, and other clinical applications.
How Does Red Light Therapy Work For Pain?
To understand how red light therapy works we first have to understand a chemical compound called adenosine triphosphate, or ATP for short. ATP is responsible for transporting and providing energy to and within our cells aiding in the overall function of our bodies. When our body is going through stress (in the form of pain, injury, illness or psychological stress) our cells can overproduce nitric oxide, which can eventually stop the production of ATP altogether and lead to cellular death, inflammation, joint pain, etc.
It is believed that red light can penetrate deep enough that your tissues will be able to absorb the light, which breaks down excess nitric oxide and restores natural ATP production. It is also thought to boost your circulation. This combined effect of enhanced circulation along with the increase in energy from the ATP not only reduces inflammation, but it also enables your cells to work more efficiently. The enhanced circulation brings more nutrients to the cells and allows faster removal of waste products. This, therefore, gives you more efficient cells processes which result in healthier tissues.
These healthier tissues, therefore, have less inflammation, faster healing and therefore reduced pain. Red light therapy can, therefore, be used successfully alongside other methods of pain management such as medications, exercise and massage.
Light therapy has been used for both acute and chronic pain, with studies showing that is was effective at reducing pain without adverse effects. It is also used for wounds, ulcers and conditions such as acne and psoriasis.
Green Light Therapy For Migraines
If you have never experienced the searing pain of a migraine, count yourself lucky. Migraines affect more than 39 million people in the US alone, and it is the 3rd most prevalent and 6th most disabling illness in the world, with someone in the USA going to the emergency room for head pain every 10 seconds. But it is not just a bad headache; sufferers can experience visual disturbance, nausea, vomiting, numbness and sensitivity to light, touch and sound. It is also commonly associated with depression, anxiety and sleep disturbances.
It is no wonder therefore, that over $41 billion is spent each year on treating migraines. One perhaps surprising technique which has recently been found is the use of green light therapy. Despite photosensitivity being a symptom of a migraine, research has found that green light wavelengths are the least likely to exacerbate migraines and that at certain, low intensities it could even be soothing. There is also some evidence that using green light therapy regularly could reduce both the severity and occurrence rate of migraines.
While more research needs to be conducted, this is a huge step forward in migraine treatments, and it is something that you can cheaply and easily do at home. There are many light therapy products including screens, handheld devices and masks which you can buy for an affordable price to treat yourself and prevent migraines from home.
Light Therapy For Restless Leg Syndrome
Restless leg syndrome is also known as Willis-Ekbom disease. It is a common condition which affects the nervous syndrome, giving an irresistible urge to move your legs, which is often worse in the evenings and at night. It therefore often impacts sleep quality and is a common cause of painful legs. It can be triggered by lack of sleep, being still for long periods, caffeine, alcohol and temperature.
Treatments for restless leg syndrome include avoiding triggers and checking for underlying conditions. Symptoms often ease with gentle movement and exercise. Otherwise, it is typically medications which are recommended. However, research has been carried out looking into the benefits of using red light therapy to treat and prevent restless leg syndrome.
Studies have found that near-infrared light, applied to the lower leg for thirty minutes regularly can decrease symptoms of restless leg syndrome. It even has long-lasting effects, with the studies showing that symptoms were still greatly improved 4 weeks after the study treatment times. More research is needed in this field, but this is another great step forward in using light therapy to treat pain without adverse effects.
Is Red Light Therapy Safe?
Red light therapy is considered to be very safe even when using at home devices when you follow the manufacturer’s instructions and make sure to buy a trusted device (preferably one approved by the FDA). Unlike some laser treatment like laser hair removal, red light therapy is painless. However, you should always be careful to no use the device for prolonged periods of time to avoid burning or blistering.
Although red light therapy is safer on the eyes than other light therapies including UV light, you should always avoid looking directly at the light source to prevent any eye damage risks.
How Do I Use An At Home Red Light Therapy Device?
Most red light therapy devices for pain come in the form of wraps and pads so you can place them in larger areas such as the lower back or your joints. There are also handheld devices that cover smaller surface areas but give you the ability to control exactly where the LED will penetrate. These smaller devices tend to be more accessible and easier to store. However, they can be more time consuming and less effective for bigger target areas.
Other At-Home Treatments For Pain
If you suffer from chronic pain, the chances are that no single treatment will completely cure or take away your pain. Red light therapy can be a very effective pain management method, but depending on the severity of your pain it is likely that you will need to use it alongside other pain management methods such as medications to get the best results possible.
While we do not aim to give you medical advice and all pain is different these are some non-medical pain management methods that you may want to consider incorporating with your red light treatment.
Complementary And Alternative Medicine (CAM)
While natural does not always mean safe or effective, some people find acupuncture, massages, aromatherapy or reflexology helpful for managing their chronic pain or recovering from a painful injury. These methods, for example, can also reduce stress, which gives your body a better chance of healing.
A bad diet can contribute to inflammation, which can make your chronic pain worse. Eating a diet filled with anti-inflammatory foods such as green leafy vegetables, healthy fats, and nuts will boost your energy and instantly make you feel better. For some conditions, such as arthritis, it is worth cutting down on particularly acidic foods such as tomatoes, which can aggravate pain.
Believe it or not, exercising can help reduce chronic pain symptoms. Over time, inactivity can weaken your joints and muscles, making them more sensitive to any kind of movement. Keeping your muscles active will help you regain energy and maintain your muscles strong and healthy, and reduce stiffness.
If you suffer from chronic pain or are in pain due to an injury or a disease consult with your doctor before engaging in any type of exercise.
We hope you enjoyed our brief explanation of using red light therapy for pain. Light therapy has been around throughout history in different forms, and now red light therapy has become one of the most sought-after non-invasive and non-medicinal therapies for pain management.
Red light therapy, when using the correct wavelength and device, has been approved by the FDA and is safe and effective even for at home uses. While red light therapy is commonly used for cosmetic applications such as wrinkle or acne reduction, it is also effective for pain management and has been shown to decrease inflammation and joint problems such as osteoarthritis.
Have you used red light therapy for pain management before? Let us know in the comments what your experience has been like and what other pain management methods you use.