Did you know that as of the last twenty years, something as ordinary as red light has the potential to heal you from several ailments?
Never in a million years would we've thought that using artificial light could help in medicine; these were the stuff science fiction movies were made of.
Going back to its' first application by EndreMester in 1967 to the FDA giving it the approval to manufacture red-light devices in 2002 till our day today, there have been a lot of changes in its utilization.
What is Red-Light Therapy?
Red light therapy is a type of treatment that utilizes low wavelengths of red light in various forms of healing. It infiltrates the surface of the skin deep into the bones producing several functions including:
- Healing of bones
- Increasing mineral density of bones
- Reduces swelling and inflammation
- Reduces osteoporosis
- Improves general bone health
- Making bones stronger
- Pain attenuation
- Neural function restoration
- Immune modulation
- Bone repairment and remodeling
Mechanism of Red-Light Therapy1
The mechanism of red-light therapy is simple; it works on stimulating the mitochondria, also known as 'the powerhouse of the cell' to produce more energy.
After the light penetrates the skin, light energy is soon converted into biochemical energy, initiating a cascade of events resulting in many physiological changes. Most importantly, oxygen release, ATP production (extra energy), and DNA replication.
This extra energy in the form of ATP goes into reducing oxidative stress, regeneration, and healing.
This is particularly beneficial in the case of broken bones, where subjecting them to red light therapy can prove advantageous in rejuvenating the healing process by expanding blood circulation, collagen formation, and decreasing inflammation.2
Other Names for Red Light Therapy
Even though red-light therapy is the most common name for this rising technology, it's not the only one. Here's a list of other names you should look out for when you're searching or reading about this topic:
- Low-level laser light therapy (LLLT for short)
- Low-power laser therapy
- Non-thermal LED light
- Soft laser therapy
- Cold laser therapy
- Photobiomodulation(we saved this for last because it's the least catchy one)
Evidence Supporting Red Light Therapy Application
Several studies have supported the application of low-level laser light therapy or red-light therapy in a wide variety of soft tissue injuries, including lower back pain, sports injuries, and bone trauma.1
Multiple preclinical and clinical studies supported these claims.
One study aimed to determine the efficacy of red-light therapy on fracture healing complications by producing ATP energy from osteoblast and fibroblasts (important cells in bone healing and formation). Their results came back positive. They've revealed that there was a direct response from the bone cells initiating the healing process.3
Another study proved the wound healing properties of red-light therapy by stimulating mitochondrial activity towards triggering cell proliferation and migration processes by the immune system to accelerate wound healing and closure.4
Similarly, a study determining the association between bone mineral formation and red-light therapy concluded that it increases bone mineralization and induces factors related to osteoblast differentiation.5
Side Effects of Red-Light Therapy
Given that red light lies within the safe region in the light spectrum, it's considered safe and painless. Generally, if used correctly and for the short term, it should pose no threat to the health and wellness of individuals.
However, according to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, there have been some evidence and feedback on burn side effects due to faulty devices and extended exposure (i.e., falling asleep while the device is on).6
Nevertheless, we always recommend consulting your healthcare professional and following their advice.
Where Can I Get Red Light Therapy Treatments?
There are many options for getting red light therapy treatments; they can be found in spas, medical centers, and doctors' offices.
In addition, you can also buy your own device from several carriers or online. But your safest option to try red light therapy —especially if it's your first time— would be at your doctor's office to avoid any unwanted side effects.
What it's All About
Based on what we know now, red light therapy effectively improves some skin conditions like acne, wound healing, hair growth, and anti-aging.
In fact, It's very popular in sports, with athletes wanting to accelerate their healing time.
However, it's important to note that the FDA hasn't approved red light therapy as a treatment tool for other serious conditions like arthritis, fractures, and cancer.
Until now, it's rather used as an adjuvant therapy due to its therapeutic advantages and low risk when it comes to side effects as compared with other treatments.
So even though most of the conducted research points to red light therapy as a promising treatment candidate, extensive research efforts should be put to prove its efficacy and safety.
- Hawkins D, Houreld N, Abrahamse H. Low-level laser therapy (LLLT) as an effective therapeutic modality for delayed wound healing. In: Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. Blackwell Publishing Inc.; 2005. p. 486–93.
- Avci P, Gupta A, Sadasivam M, Vecchio D, Pam Z, Pam N, et al. Low-level laser (light) therapy (LLLT) in skin: stimulating, healing, restoring. Vol. 32, Semin Cutan Med Surg. 2013.
- Quirk BJ, Sannagowdara K, Buchmann E v., Jensen ES, Gregg DC, Whelan HT. Effect of near-infrared light on in vitro cellular ATP production of osteoblasts and fibroblasts and on fracture healing with intramedullary fixation. Journal of Clinical Orthopaedics and Trauma. 2016 Oct 1;7(4):234–41.
- Hawkins DH, Abrahamse H. The role of laser fluence in cell viability, proliferation, and membrane integrity of wounded human skin fibroblasts following Helium-Neon laser irradiation. Lasers in Surgery and Medicine. 2006 Jan;38(1):74–83.
- Fujimoto K, Kiyosaki T, Mitsui N, Mayahara K, Omasa S, Suzuki N, et al. Low-intensity laser irradiation stimulates mineralization via increased BMPs in MC3T3-E1 cells. Lasers in Surgery and Medicine. 2010 Aug;42(6):519–26.
- NCA - Infrared Therapy Devices (CAG-00291N) - Decision Memo [Internet]. [cited 2022 Mar 25]. Available from: https://www.cms.gov/medicare-coverage-database/view/ncacal-decision-memo.aspx?proposed=N&NCAId=176&NcaName=Infrared+Therapy+Devices&DocID=CAG-00291N&id=176&bc=gAAAAAgAAgAAAA==&