Red Light Therapy for Arthritis and Joint Pain Relief

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Joint pain is one of the most common health conditions, with over a third of adults reporting joint discomfort in national surveys. [1] In this article, we’ll explain the causes of joint pain and break down some of the leading treatment options. We’ll also take a look at red light therapy for joint pain as well as the science and research behind it. 

What are Joints and Why does Joint Pain Happen?

Our joints are the essential parts of our body that form connections between our bones allowing for movement. When they’re damaged or strained, it can cause pain and affect range of motion. The most common joints where people experience pain and discomfort are the knees, shoulders, and hips. Wrists and ankles are also common spots for joint pain. 

So what causes joint pain? A lot of things, unfortunately. Here’s a look at some of the most common reasons people experience joint pain:

  • Injuries and strain: The most common cause of acute joint pain is minor injury or strain. Twisting your ankle will stretch tendons, ligaments, and muscles around the joint, producing damage and consequently inflammation to repair these tissues. Although pain is part of the inflammation process, it becomes a problem when it is exacerbated. Overuse of a muscle or body part can also lead to joint pain.  [2,7]
  • Aging: As we get older, our joints gradually undergo wear and tear. Many people start to experience some joint stiffness and pain as they get older. [3,4]
  • Arthritis: Arthritis is a range of conditions that cause swelling and tenderness in your joints. It affects over 50 million Americans. [3,4]
  • Bursitis: Like ”sacs of fluid”, it helps to cushion frictions between tendons, muscles, and bones in the area of your joints. Bursitis term means an inflammation condition of these “sacs of fluids” that elicits pain. [4]

What is Arthritis and Why does it Cause Joint Pain?

Arthritis is defined as an acute or chronic joint inflammation in the joint that often co-exists with pain and structural damage.  Arthritis isn’t just one disease, it’s a way of referring to over 100 joint conditions. Arthritis is extremely common being a third of the American population and this number is bound to increase with the mean population age. It’s also the single most common cause of medical disability in the U.S. Arthritic joint symptoms include pain, stiffness, decreased range of motion, and joint deformities The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis, which tends to worsen with age. Rheumatoid arthritis is another common autoimmune disease that causes activation and dysfunction of the immune system leading to inflammation and consequently pain in the joints [3,4]

Treatment Options for Joint Pain Relief

There are numerous treatment options for joint pain, from home remedies to medications to physical therapy programs to red light therapy. These are some of the most common ways people treat their joint pain:

  • OTC medications: Millions of people use over-the-counter painkillers, like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, to relieve any type of pain, including joint pain. These can have an acute benefit but also come with various cardiovascular and gastrointestinal risks.  [3,5]
  • Physical therapy: Exercise programs, or exercise therapy, are popular methods to improve joint health. For more severe pain and limitations of motion, some people enroll in prescription physical therapy programs [3,6].
  • Weight loss: In cases where joints are overloaded and strained by obesity, people may be encouraged to lose weight or change their diets. [3,4]
  • Home remedies for joint pain: While most lack clinical validity, many people swear by home remedies for joint pain. Common natural joint pain treatments include hot and cold therapy (icing and heat), acupuncture, massage, topical ointments that contain capsaicin, and consuming supplements like turmeric orgingko. [3]

  • Red light therapy: Red light therapy is a simple, non-invasive treatment that uses LEDs to deliver red and near infrared (NIR) wavelengths of light to the body and cells. It’s a popular modality with trainers and sports medicine professionals, and there’s a growing body of peer-reviewed clinical research showing that red light therapy treatments can improve pain symptoms in joints.

     What is Red Light Therapy and How Does it Work?

    If you’re not familiar with red light therapy, this article gives a good overview of what it is and how it works. The short version: red light therapy devices deliver concentrated wavelengths of therapeutic light to your skin and cells, which can help reduce oxidative stress and stimulate cellular energy production (adenosine triphosphate or ATP). This helps your body power itself, leading to many benefits including improved blood circulation and reduced joint pain and inflammation.

    Red light therapy typically utilizes two different spectrums of light, red and near infrared.

    • Red light: Delivered using 660nm wavelengths, this light is readily absorbed by surface tissues and cells. Potential benefits include skin rejuvenation and enhanced healing and blood flow. 
    • Near infrared: Delivered at 850nm wavelengths, NIR light can penetrate into deeper tissues, leading to enhanced recovery and inflammation support. Near infrared light is invisible to the naked eye. 

    Check out this article to learn more about the different wavelengths and colors of light.

    Clinical Evidence for Red Light Therapy and Pain Relief

    Unlike most home remedies, red light therapy is backed by hundreds of peer-reviewed clinical studies that show effectiveness for pain and joint disorders, with very few risks or side effects. Below we’ll dive into some of the science and research behind LED red light treatments for pain.

    Red light therapy for arthritis and joint pain: Red light therapy has a strong clinical track record for osteoarthritis pain. In one double-blind clinical study, 50 patients with degenerative osteoarthritis in both knees were treated with either red light, infrared light, or a placebo for ten days. 

    There were no significant pain improvements in the placebo group. But the red and infrared groups saw their pain reduced by over 50%. This led the research team to conclude that red light therapy “is effective in relieving pain and disability in degenerative osteoarthritis of the knee.” [7]

    Red light therapy for ankle pain: In a 2018 clinical trial, patients with acute ankle sprains were treated with red light from LED devices for six days. Compared to a placebo group, the patients reported significantly less ankle pain after three days. The researchers concluded that red light therapy “is effective for pain and edema in the initial phase of ankle sprains.” [8]

    Red light therapy for lower back pain: Red light therapy has consistently shown good clinical results for lower back pain. Infrared and near infrared light have demonstrated improved pain scores in studies and trials, especially for the treatment of chronic lower back pain. [9]

    Other Health Benefits of Red Light Therapy

    LED red light treatments can have a wide range of additional health and wellness benefits. These are some of the most common::

    Enhanced cellular function and ATP energy: Red light therapy treatments often have systemic benefits because they can improve cellular health across the entire body. When your cells are working more efficiently and producing more ATP energy, the better you can look and feel. Learn more about ATP energy and light therapy here.

    Inflammation management: Light therapy devices can help improve the efficiency of your body’s natural inflammation processes as you recover from illness or injury. [10] Read more about inflammation, strain, and light therapy here.

    Improved blood flow and healing: One of the potential benefits of light therapy is a significant increase in blood circulation following treatment sessions. This indicates tissues are receiving more oxygen and other nutrients that are important for healing. At the same time, concentrated light wavelengths can help the body and circulatory system rid itself of toxic byproducts. [11] Learn more about circulation and therapy lights here.

    Better sleep and circadian rhythm: Healthy light intake is crucial for sleep and maintaining natural circadian rhythms. Our brains interpret light as a sign of when to be awake and asleep, and when to make crucial sleep hormones like melatonin. Bright blue light at night can knock your sleep cycle out of whack, but red light is a lower-intensity alternative that can help support longer, more restful sleep. [12,13] Joovv designed Ambient Mode especially to support sleep and circadian rhythms. Learn about circadian rhythms and light therapy here.

    Risks and Side Effects of Red Light Therapy

    LED devices are quick and easy to use at home. They’ve also proven to be safe, with almost no side effects*, in hundreds and hundreds of clinical trials and studies. Doctors and health practitioners use LED treatments because they’re non-invasive and well-tolerated by patients young and old.

    How to Use Red Light Therapy

    Red light treatments have become a lot more popular with both professionals and consumers in the last 5-10 years. Today, you can use red light therapy in your home with a quality system like a Joovv. You can also find red light therapy at a wide range of clinics and businesses. Here’s a look at where and how you can use red light therapy today:

    Commercial red light therapy options: If you’re willing to pay for red light therapy treatments on a per-visit or subscription basis, there are many businesses and clinics that offer LED sessions. Here are a few of the most common commercial locations for red light therapy:

    • Spas and salons: Many skincare businesses offer red light therapy for skin rejuvenation and beauty treatments. 
    • Medical doctors: More and more MDs are incorporating red light therapy into their practices.
    • Gyms and trainers: Red light therapy is a popular modality in the fitness community, especially for recovery and healing benefits. 
    • Chiropractors: Many chiropractors offer red light therapy sessions on a pay-per-visit basis. 

    A professional red light therapy provider can lend expertise and show you the optimal way to do a treatment. The downside to the commercial route is cost. It is much more expensive to do red light therapy at clinics than at home. It’s also harder to maintain consistency, which is crucial for effective red light therapy. That’s why many people choose to purchase an in-home red light therapy system they can use every day, without extra costs or a commute. 

    At-home red light therapy options: With an in-home system like Joovv, you pay a one-time cost of buying the device and then have unlimited access to private, convenient red light therapy sessions. With Joovv’s patented modular system, you can pick from 7 configuration options ranging from small to full-body coverage. In addition to therapeutic red and NIR light, each configuration, or kit,  includes illumination options, like Ambient Mode, which uses lower-intensity light to give your sleep an added boost at night while avoiding bright blue light.

    To learn more about Joovv’s modular system, check out this helpful guide. 

    Conclusions: Red Light Therapy Can Improve Joint Pain

    Joint pain is common, and it often persists despite the use of OTC medications. Red light therapy is a safe, effective therapy for various joint pain and inflammation concerns, and it’s backed by a large body of peer-reviewed clinical research and used by a large number of physical therapists around the world to treat pain. Using a quality, at-home red light therapy device like a Joovv is quick and easy and can improve pain with consistent use. 

     

    Sources and References:


    [1] CDC. QuickStats: Percentage of Adults Reporting Joint Pain or Stiffness - National Health Interview Survey, United States, 2006.


    [2Struijs PA, Kerkhoffs GM. Ankle sprain. BMJ Clin Evid. 2010 May 13;2010:1115. PMID: 21718566; PMCID: PMC2907605.


    [3Senthelal S, Li J, Goyal A, Bansal P, Thomas MA. Arthritis. 2020 Aug 10. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan.


    [4Sen R, Hurley JA. Osteoarthritis. 2021 Feb 27. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan–. PMID: 29493951.


    [5Marsico F, Paolillo S, Filardi PP. NSAIDs and cardiovascular risk. J Cardiovasc Med (Hagerstown). 2017 Jan.


    [6] Wang SY, Olson-Kellogg B, Shamliyan TA, Choi JY, Ramakrishnan R, Kane RL. Physical therapy interventions for knee pain secondary to osteoarthritis: a systematic review. Ann Intern Med. 2012 Nov 6;157(9):632-44. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-157-9-201211060-00007. PMID: 23128863.


    [7] Stelian J, Gil I, Habot B, Rosenthal M, Abramovici I, Kutok N, Khahil A. Improvement of pain and disability in elderly patients with degenerative osteoarthritis of the knee treated with narrow-band light therapy. J Am Geriatr Soc. 1992 Jan;40(1):23-6.


    [8] de Moraes Prianti B, Novello GF, de Souza Moreira Prianti T, Costa DR, Pessoa DR, Nicolau RA. Evaluation of the therapeutic effects of led (λ627 ± 10 nm) on the initial phase of ankle sprain treatment: a randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial. Lasers Med Sci. 2018 Jul;33(5):1031-1038. 

    [9] Gale GD, Rothbart PJ, Li Y. Infrared therapy for chronic low back pain: a randomized, controlled trial. Pain Res Manag. 2006;11(3):193-196. 

    [10] Hamblin M. Mechanisms and applications of the anti-inflammatory effects of photobiomodulation. AIMS Biophysics. 2017 May.

    [11] Mak MC, Cheing GL. Immediate effects of monochromatic infrared energy on microcirculation in healthy subjects. Photomed Laser Surg. 2012.


    [12] Jung C, Khalsa S, et al. Acute Effects of Bright Light Exposure on Cortisol Levels. Journal of Biological Rhythms. 2010 Jun.

    [13] Harvard Health. Blue light has a dark side.



    *To see a list of precautionary warnings and contraindications click here.