Decrease Pain with Red and Near-Infrared Light Therapy
Red and near-infrared light therapy has been remarkably effective at reducing joint pain in virtually all areas of the body.
There are a number of proposed mechanisms (that have some evidence to support them) for exactly how red/NIR light works to combat pain: changes in tissue opioid receptors, changes in substance P, and interference with nerve transmission and pain sensation.
It’s worth noting that there are different types of pain that are caused by different things. Red/NIR light therapy almost certainly does not work equally well for all types of pain, regardless of location and cause of the pain. For that reason, not all studies on various types of pain have shown benefit. The most recent 2014 review of the scientific literature noted:
“Studies have demonstrated that LLLT may have positive effects on symptomology associated with chronic pain; however this finding is not universal. A meta-analysis utilizing 52 effect sizes from 22 articles on LLLT and pain from Fulop et al. (2010) demonstrated an overall effect size of 0.84. This would be classified as a large effect size and suggests a strong inclination for the use of LLLT to reduce chronic pain.”
Here are several conditions where red/NIR light has proven effective:
- Chronic neck pain
- Knee pain
- Low back pain
- Chronic pain in the elbow, wrist and fingers
- Chronic joint disorders
- Sacroiliac joint pain
- Chronic tooth pain
- Osteoarthritis pain
- Tendinitis and myofascial pain
So while not every study has shown benefit for every type of pain condition, the overwhelming bulk of evidence suggests that red/NIR light can at least be moderately helpful for most types of pain. In a recent systematic review, researchers concluded that red light therapy has proven “beneficial for many individuals suffering from pain, regardless of the condition that is causing it.”