Millions of people suffer from chronic pain caused by all sorts of conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, bursitis and tons of other illnesses. Even more shocking is the fact that the total cost of treating pain each year is an estimated $635 billion, which is more than the total annual cost of treating cancer, diabetes, and heart disease!
Unsurprisingly, many people are now looking for alternative methods of alleviating their pain and the use of red light therapy has become increasingly popular.
How Does Red Light Therapy Help in Pain Reduction?
For a long time now, light therapy was mostly done in the doctor’s office. Today, chronic pain patients can use hand held devices at home to alleviate pain.
These portable devices emit red LED or infrared light to boost blood circulation thereby reducing joint and muscle pains. When infrared light is absorbed into the skin, it stimulates the production of nitric oxide in the body. This transitory gas is vital to the wellbeing of your arteries. Nitric oxide boosts blood circulation around the pain area.
The increase in blood circulation further prompts the flow of oxygen and nutrients toward the injured tissues. The result is a reduction in inflammation, pain and faster healing.
What’s a Typical Treatment Session Like?
During therapy, the hand held unit is placed on the affected area to allow the skin to absorb the red LED lights deep down into the tissues. The process itself is painless. It can take as short as 30 minutes to boost blood circulation; the increased state of blood circulation can last for several hours, allowing you to feel relief for longer. Evidence suggests that multiple treatment sessions offer dramatic relief from chronic pain.
Where’s the evidence?
The use of electricity for minimizing pain dates as far back as 2750 BC. In recent years, practitioners have been more successful at developing infrared and red LED light therapy devices for healing wounds, alleviating knee pain associated with arthritis, and increasing the production of endorphins, natural chemicals that fight pain and stress.
A study done at the Rothbart Pain Management Clinic in North York, Ontario is one of the most comprehensive to date detailing the effectiveness of red light therapy for pain management. In that study, 39 patients who had suffered chronic back pain for more than six years were randomly put through actual infrared therapy and placebo treatment for seven weeks. Twenty-one of the patients were assigned to actual therapy while the remaining 18 were put on placebo treatment.
All the patients used portable light therapy devices for treatment but the devices for the placebo patients were not connected to the power switch. The devices for the actual treatment emitted red light wavelengths in the range of 800 and 1200 nanometer. During the study, the patient’s level of pain was examined by having them bend and rotate in different directions.
The level of pain for the 21 patients reduced from a rating of 6.9 out of 10, down to 3 out of 10. Meanwhile the ratings of the placebo group fell only slightly from 7.4 out of 10 to 6 out of 10. In effect, the study found that infrared light therapy was effective at minimizing pain without any adverse effects.
In addition to reducing joint and muscle pain, red light therapy devices can also:
- Improve lymphatic activity
- Boost the immune system
- Increase blood circulation
- Aid in cell regeneration
- Help muscles to relax Boost production of collagen
- Regulate levels of serotonin
What’s really important to note is that the higher the wavelength, the deeper it penetrates the tissues. Additionally, devices that emit lower level red light wavelengths are better at reducing superficial or level pain.
On the other hand, infrared light or a combination of infrared and red light is better at penetrating deep tissues and reducing pain at that level.
Some deep tissue conditions that require infrared or a combination with red LED light include:
- Whole and low back pain
- Neck, foot and knee pain
- Post-surgery pain
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Sprains and tissue tears
You might come across information that recommends that you use red light therapy devices with a specific wavelength. Generally, a device that emits the entire spectrum of red and infrared light i.e. 600nm- 1000nm will provide the desired results.
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