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Red Light Therapy for Arthritis, Inflammation & Pain

Updated: Mar 22, 2020

Posted March 21, 2020

With much in the news lately about the opioid epidemic, it’s no surprise people are looking for alternatives to treat inflammation and pain conditions. The addictive potential of opioids aside, even over-the-counter drugs like acetaminophen and ibuprofen can have negative effects when overused.

One of the leading causes of chronic pain is arthritis. Red/NIR light therapy is now being used in many places to treat arthritis symptoms This is in part due to its ability to decrease inflammation (thus reducing pain) and support collagen production (rebuild cartilage).

A 2005 Cochrane review [1] of red light therapy for rheumatoid arthritis concluded that “LLLT could be considered for short-term treatment for relief of pain and morning stiffness for RA patients, particularly since it has few side-effects.”

In fact, light therapy has been studied for arthritis in many, many human clinical trials in many parts of the body including on the knees, shoulders, hands, back, neck, elbows, ankles and feet.

How does red light therapy help arthritis?

Red light therapy reduces inflammation by increasing circulation and blood flow to damaged tissues. [15] In a 2017 review Dr. Michael Hamblin summarizes:

"PBM is able to up-regulate anti-oxidant defenses and reduce oxidative stress. It was shown that PBM can activate NF-kB in normal quiescent cells, however in activated inflammatory cells, inflammatory markers were decreased. One of the most reproducible effects of PBM is an overall reduction in inflammation, which is particularly important for disorders of the joints, traumatic injuries, lung disorders, and in the brain."

Decreasing oxidative damage, which degenerates joints, and is another way that light therapy can benefit soft/connective tissue. Furthermore, producing more cellular energy helps tissues regenerate and heal faster.

What about other sources of pain?

Even in those who don’t suffer from arthritis but have other signs of tissue degeneration or damage, light therapy may still be beneficial. A 2009 meta-analysis published in The Lancet [16] summarized “We show that LLLT reduces pain immediately after treatment in acute neck pain and up to 22 weeks after completion of treatment in patients with chronic neck pain.”