Figures from the National Institutes of Health reveal that almost 40 million Americans suffer from severe pain, and more than 25 million endure pain on a daily basis. Doctors usually prescribe drugs like hydrocodone, oxymorphone and fentanyl when their patients suffer from chronic and persistent pain, but these powerful pharmaceuticals only mask the symptoms for a short time. Individuals who take opioids for chronic pain gradually build up a tolerance, which leads to greater consumption and possible addiction. Medical professionals spent decades looking for a better way to treat pain, and the breakthrough came from an unexpected source.
Early Research on Light Therapy
Light therapy was first used in the early 1800s to treat tuberculosis, but the approach did not attract much interest from the scientific community. However, all of that changed in the 1990s when researchers from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration were looking for ways to stimulate plant growth in space.
When researchers learned that exposing plant cells to red and near-infrared light stimulated photosynthesis and growth, they wondered if light therapy could also speed healing and reduce inflammation in humans. The potential benefits of red light therapy has prompted hundreds of scientific studies in recent years, and the results of this research have been very promising.
What Is Red Light Therapy?
Red light therapy, which is also known as photonic stimulation, photobiomodulation and biostimulation, is a therapeutic approach that uses low-level wavelengths of red and near-infrared (NIR) light to treat skin issues, promote healing and manage pain. It is often referred to as low-level light therapy because the light wavelengths used have a lower energy density than conventional light treatments. While lasers promote tissue repair by damaging the skin in a controlled way, the wavelengths used in red light therapy cause no damage and stimulate cells painlessly.
Light therapy attracted the attention of medical researchers because red and NIR light penetrates the skin and reaches the mitochondria. This is the key to red light therapy’s benefits because the mitochondria stimulate the production of adenosine triphosphate, which is the molecule in all living cells that provides energy. When cells have more ATP, they function more efficiently and repair damage more quickly. The ability to promote ATP production is the reason red light therapy works just as well for humans as it does for plants.
What Are the Benefits of Red Light Therapy?
As the potential benefits of red light therapy became clear, scientists started to look into other ways to use the approach. These studies have revealed that red light therapy may be a breakthrough treatment for a wide variety of medical conditions. Researchers accept that further work needs to be done, but the initial results are encouraging. The conditions red light therapy appears to effectively treat include:
- Osteoarthritis: When researchers used light therapy to treat 50 patients suffering from degenerative osteoarthritis, they discovered that the approach reduced pain by more than 50 percent.
- Sports injuries: The results of a study published in 2016 reveal that red light therapy can shorten recuperation times for injured athletes. Almost 80 percent of the injured athletes who participated said that they were satisfied or extremely satisfied with the treatment.
- Dementia: When individuals suffering from early-onset dementia were given red light therapy, they began to remember more, sleep better and get angry less often after just 12 weeks.
- TMD: A group of 25 college students who suffer from temporomandibular dysfunction told researchers that their clicking had stopped completely after receiving red light therapy. Only three of the 25 subjects who were given a placebo said the same.
- Hair loss: Androgenetic alopecia is a genetic condition that is the most common reason for hair loss in both men and women. When they tested the effectiveness of red light therapy as a treatment for hair loss, researchers noticed that using a helmet-type device to deliver red and NIR light for 16 weeks promoted thicker hair growth. Members of the control group lost hair.
- SAD: Seasonal affective disorder is the cause of about 10 percent of the major depression cases in the United States. The condition is at its worst during the fall and winter months when people spend less time exposed to natural light. Light therapy has become one of the most popular and effective treatments for SAD.
- Oral mucositis: Researchers have discovered that red light therapy can significantly reduce the pain associated with oral mucositis, which is a common side effect of chemotherapy and may even prevent the condition from developing when administered before cancer treatment begins.
Does Red Light Therapy Have Any Risks?
Red light therapy is a natural process that is safe, painless and offers several benefits, but it is not completely risk-free. There have been reports of red light therapy causing burns, but most of these were made by people who fell asleep while using the devices. Sometimes, burns and other negative side effects are caused by corrosion or broken wires in poorly made machines. This is why it is always a good idea to buy red light devices from reputable suppliers that offer a satisfaction guarantee.
Another problem with badly constructed red light devices is they may lack filters to block out ultraviolet light. This is important because UV rays are known to cause skin cancer. People with sensitive skin should use red light devices cautiously at first to make sure that they do not cause redness or soreness, and all users should avoid looking directly into the lights for long periods.
FSA/HSA Approved Red Light Devices
If you are looking for a safe and affordable way to put red light therapy to the test, you should consider Bright Health’s Foot Relief Device. Light switches from red to NIR when in use to ensure even treatment, and it is delivered by 124 medical grade LEDs. The device is FSA and HSA approved, and it has been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration for drug-free pain relief.