Chap. 3: Infrared Light Therapy
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INFRARED LIGHT THERAPY
Infrared light can be used for a variety of beneficial purposes, including pain relief and improvement in skin tone and appearance. In this chapter we’ll look at some of the therapeutic uses for near infrared and red light therapies, examine the science behind them, and discuss studies that have been used to evaluate their effectiveness.
Research Into NIR and Pain
A number of studies that have documented the effectiveness of infrared light in relieving indicators of pain from multiple causes and in multiple locations on the body. These include chronic and acute pain, pain from injuries and pain from overexertion. In one of them, a Rothbart Pain Management Clinic study, infrared energy was delivered to 40 people who suffered from chronic lower back pain. The method was shown to be effective in reducing chronic lower back pain with zero adverse side effects.
Another study, published in the Turkish Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, looked at the impact of infrared light therapy on inflammatory arthritis of the spine. In the study, patients treated with infrared light experienced improved mobility, function, and quality of life.
In light therapy (infrared light therapy, red light therapy, dual optical energy, low light laser therapy, and others), certain wavelengths of bioreactive light energy are delivered to sites of the body where there is pain or injury. Near infrared (NIR) light therapy specifically uses wavelengths between 700nm and 1000nm.
Pain management is an integral part of health care. It can also be subject of intense disagreement. Healthcare practitioners and lawmakers are challenged to provide effective pain relief while ensuring that patients do not become dependent upon the medication prescribed to them. Heavy monitoring, restrictions, and a desire to avoid addiction and other side effects have patients looking for alternatives to pharmaceutical pain management. Everything from acupuncture to essential oils, to herbal supplements are being touted as natural pain relievers.
How Infrared Light Therapy Works
NIR therapy has been shown to have direct effects on pain signaling pathways. Studies of the effectiveness of light therapy on a number of chronic pain conditions suggest that it may affect nerve fibers involved in conduction of pain signals. Human and animal studies have found elevated levels of endorphins (small proteins that block pain signals in nerves) in response to light therapy, as well as several other biochemical effects that can produce a net benefit in terms of pain relief.
Infrared light also stimulates the flow of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide occurs naturally in the body and is a signaling molecule which plays a major role in promoting blood flow to tissues. Increased blood flow helps bring oxygen and nutrients to injured areas. Infrared light also enhances lymphatic drainage, which means that inflammation is inhibited and swelling is reduced.
All this means that infrared light therapy can treat pain indicators from deep muscle tissue, bones, and joints. It can also help with associated problems like swelling. Since infrared light penetrates deep into the skin, muscle tissue, and even bone, it is able to deliver potential benefits throughout most of the body.
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