Infrared light therapy – also known as: “photo-bio-modulation (PBM)”, “red light therapy” or simply “infrared therapy” – is primarily a modern approach to pain relief. It has demonstrated success with both chronic and acute pain management. In practice, the idea behind the therapy is to isolate the infrared wavelength of light from the electromagnetic spectrum (EM) and deliver it to sites of pain and discomfort in the body. This has been found to have regenerative and healing effects on cells as we are going to explore later in this article. While infrared light therapy is a new age technique, the concept of electromagnetic therapy dates back thousands of years. Some of our ancestors are believed to have used electric eels to provide electric shocks for various forms of treatment.
How Does It Work?
Infrared wavelengths range between 700 nanometers and 1,000 nanometers. A 2015 study conducted by Theodore Henderson, MD, Ph.D. and Larry Morries, DC, investigated the depth of infrared penetration in the body. Depending on the strength of the infrared light, it can penetrate inner layers of the skin to a depth between two millimeters and more than three centimeters. At such depths, infrared light gets absorbed by photoreceptors located within the cells leading to a series of metabolic events – among which include cell regeneration. Let’s now go over the benefits of infrared light therapy in more detail.
BENEFITS OF INFRARED LIGHT THERAPY
In one study involving nearly 40 arthritis patients as participants, red light therapy was found to produce significant results in terms of pain relief and improved function in the patients. There have also been other studies that support infrared therapy for arthritic joint inflammation.
Builds Collagen and Improves Skin Complexion
Infrared therapy has also been investigated for its potential impact on boosting skin collagen and skin complexion. A 2014 study by researchers at Medical Light Consulting and JK-International GmbH in Germany concluded that “application of infrared full-body treatment or large-area modalities provides a safe, non-ablative, non-thermal, atraumatic photo-bio-modulation treatment of skin tissue with high patient satisfaction rates”. The researchers also noted that therapy is ideal for anti-aging treatment options.
Facilitates Healing of Wounds
Some studies have recorded success in wound healing with infrared therapy – particularly in burns, skin grafts, infections, and amputations. Infrared light reduces the production of inflammatory factors while simultaneously boosting the regenerative activities of connective tissues.
Promotes Healing of Traumatic Brain Injury
Because of limited options in terms of treatment for traumatic brain injury, many researchers have been looking into infrared light therapy. In one study by the founders of Neuro-Laser Foundation, published in the Neural Regeneration Research Journal, it was noted that Near Infrared (NIR) therapy is a “safe and effective modality for traumatic brain injury treatment”. Infrared induces a persistent, and possibly progressive, change in neurological function.
Although more scientific research is definitely required, infrared light therapy has been shown to have an impact on mood. In one study involving 70 participants with insomnia and depression, red light therapy was noted to have an impact in increased levels of serotonin in the blood. This is a chemical known to improve low and “off” moods. In another study involving rats as participants, long-term red light therapy was found to alleviate anxiety and depression characteristics in rodents.
Does Red Light Therapy Improve Blood Circulation?
While some studies record an increase in blood circulation using infrared therapy, some have shown inconclusive results. Near-infrared light, therapy does not seem to have a significant impact on blood circulation. However, far-infrared light therapy is something that a lot of researchers are currently looking into. One of the biggest hurdles for scientists will be to isolate the impacts of the infrared from that of increased temperature as a result of the therapy.
To conclude, there have been no adverse side effects of infrared light – particularly mild red light therapy – to date. It is, therefore, generally considered safe for most people; including infants.
What About Cancer Treatment?
In scientific studies involving mice, some forms of infrared radiation therapy are suspected to have anti-tumor properties. It is also believed that the radiation may cause nearby cells to become toxic; therefore, this approach is still highly experimental. More research is still needed before light therapy can be accepted as a mainstream form of cancer treatment.
Alexander Wunschcorresponding and Karsten Matuschka, Medical Light Consulting, Heidelberg, Germany (Feb 2014): “A Controlled Trial to Determine the Efficacy of Red and Near-Infrared Light Treatment in Patient Satisfaction, Reduction of Fine Lines, Wrinkles, Skin Roughness, and Intradermal Collagen Density Increase”. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3926176/
Editorial Staff, Web MD (Updated 2019): “What Is Red Light Therapy?” Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/red-light-therapy#1
Theodore A. Henderson, M.D., Ph.D., Neuro-Laser Foundation, The Synaptic Space, Neuro-Luminance, Centennial, CO, USA (April 2016): “Multi-watt near-infrared light therapy as a neuro-regenerative treatment for traumatic brain injury”. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4870908/
Shang-Ru Tsai, Ph.D. and Michael R Hamblin, Ph.D., Graduate Institute of Biomedical Electronics and Bioinformatics, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan (May 2018): “Biological effects and medical applications of infrared radiation”. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5505738/
Theodore Henderson, MD, PhD and Larry Morries, DC, Neuro-Laser Foundation (January 2015): “Near-infrared photonic energy penetration: can infrared phototherapy effectively reach the human brain?”Retrieved from https://www.dovepress.com/articles.php?article_id=23271#
Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo, BSN and Dr. Liji Thomas, MD, News Medical (January 2019): “How Does Infrared Therapy Work?”Retrieved from https://www.news-medical.net/health/How-Does-Infrared-Therapy-Work.aspx
Jacquelyn Cafasso; Medically reviewed by Cynthia Cobb, DNP, APRN, Health Line (May 2018): “Red Light Therapy Benefits”. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/red-light-therapy
Editorial Staff, Cision PR Newswire (September 2015): “New Study Shows Only High-Powered Near-Infrared Light (NIR) Regenerates Damage from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)”. Retrieved from https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/new-study-shows-only-high-powered-near-infrared-light-nir-regenerates-damage-from-traumatic-brain-injury-tbi-300143969.html
Gail Overton, Laser Focus World (October 2015): “Near-IR light penetrates skull to aid traumatic brain injury”. Retrieved from https://www.laserfocusworld.com/lasers-sources/article/16558020/nearir-light-penetrates-skull-to-aid-traumatic-brain-injury
Toyokawa H, et. al., First Department of Surgery and Regeneration Research Center for Intractable Diseases, Kansai Medical University, Moriguchi City, Osaka (June 2003): “Promotive effects of far-infrared ray on full-thickness skin wound healing in rats”. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12773705
This site and its services are for consumer educational use only. Nothing contained in this article is or should be considered or used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never start any diet, exercise, or supplement program without consulting your medical provider. This article and its services do not constitute the practice of medicine. Users should always seek the advice of a physician with any questions regarding their health or medical conditions. Never disregard, avoid, or delay obtaining medical advice or following the advice of a physician because of something you have seen or read on this site.