How Infrared Light Therapy Works
The visible light spectrum ranges from short-wavelength violet to long-wavelength red. Outside the range of our vision are the longer wavelengths of infrared and the shorter wavelengths of ultraviolet light. Although infrared light is invisible to the eye, it penetrates the body’s tissues more than visible light or ultraviolet light. Infrared light works by painlessly penetrating the skin, providing a greater depth that can reach the site of pain, be it the muscles, nerves, and even bones. This is important because it means that infrared light therapy can help even harder to reach cells and tissues.
When infrared light reaches body cells, it is absorbed by the mitochondria of the cell. This increases the cell’s metabolism which stimulates healing in the muscle, bone, skin, and subcutaneous tissue.
An important mechanism in this process is the release of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide (NO) occurs naturally in the body and is a key signaling molecule which, when activated, can set off several effects. It plays a major role in promoting blood flow to tissues and increasing lymphatic drainage. Increased blood flow helps bring oxygen and nutrients to areas of pain, while through the increase in lymphatic drainage inflammation is inhibited and swelling is reduced. Infrared light has also been shown to have direct effects on pain signals by facilitating the production of endorphins, the “feel-good” chemicals that can act as pain relievers, together with nitric oxide.
All this means that infrared light therapy can treat pain indicators relating to deep muscle tissue, bones and joints. The therapeutic effects and efficacy of infrared light therapy is not absolute but rather depend on various parameters and factors, including fluence, irradiance, treatment timing and frequency, and wavelength. It’s important to understand that infrared light is different from ultraviolet light, which may damage tissues and cells of the body. On the contrary, infrared light helps the body.
Several studies have reported that IR can improve the healing of skin wounds, relieve pain, stiffness, fatigue of rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, potentiate photodynamic therapy, treat ophthalmic, neurological, and psychiatric disorders, and stimulate the proliferation of mesenchymal and cardiac stem cells. Infrared is a type of electomagnetic radiations which was first developed by NASA when experimenting with plant growth [1–9]. 1. . https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC550573
The use of this technology in pain treatment has since been cleared by the FDA for the treatment of multiple pain indicators, including chronic pain, pain from trauma, pain from sport’s injuries, and pain from menstrual cramps. Medical specialists and physiotherapists are treating a wide variety of acute and chronic pain and musculoskeletal injuries with light therapy. Infrared light helps to reduce pain and inflammation while promoting the body’s healing mechanisms and treating the source of pain.
Certain wavelengths of light are delivered to sites of the body where there is pain or injury. In addition to infrared light therapy, infrared light therapy has wavelengths between 700nm and 1mm, while low-level light therapy (LLLT) generally involves light at red and near infrared wavelengths of 600-100nm. Infrared light is natural and although the light penetrates the skin, it is painless and does not damage the skin through UV radiation.
What Types of Pain Can Infrared Light Effectively Treat?
Infrared light therapy can treat chronic and temporary inflammation, making it useful in the treatment of:
- Osteoarthritis & Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Chronic Neck Pain
- Chronic Back Pain
- Tendon Inflammation (Tennis Elbow, Achilles Tendon Inflammation, etc.)
Infrared light therapy is applied in the treatment of various health conditions, including trauma, joint inflammation, carpal tunnel syndrome (a common condition that causes pain, numbness, and tingling in the hand and arm and caused when the median nerve is squeezed or compressed), sciatica (the common pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve, from the lower back through the hips and buttocks and down the leg), diabetic neuropathy (a type of nerve damage that can occur if you have diabetes), infrared heat lamp for muscle pain, injuries, wounds, and post-surgical incisions. Infrared therapy contributes to reduced pain, such as less muscle soreness after exercising or playing sports, as well as lightness and stiffness. The use of infrared light may help to decrease pain significantly for back pain and other common types of pain such as foot and ankle pain that restrict activity, and musculoeskeletal pain in the knee joint, wrist, and other places in our bodies.
The efficacy of Infrared light therapy for the treatment of pain has been proven in various clinical studies:
Infrared therapy for chronic low back pain: A randomized, controlled trial, Pain Research and Management
George D Gale, MBBS FRCA FRCPC DAAPM, Peter J Rothbart, MD FRCPC, and Ye Li
The purpose of this double-blind, placebo-controlled trial was to determine whether infrared light therapy could reduce chronic low back pain. It demonstrated reduced chronic back pain by 50% over six weeks.
The purpose of this study was to determine whether infrared light therapy could reduce chronic low back pain.
Near Infrared Light for the Treatment of Painful Peripheral Neuropathy, Mayo Clinic
This clinical trial was performed by the Mayo Clinic in order to test the efficacy of infrared light on peripheral neuropathy.