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How red light therapy can help reduce your muscle pains

The treatment uses low wavelength red light to restimulate cellular activity, circulation and ease muscular pain

Red light therapy and infrared light therapy stimulate cellular activity and circulation, which could help reduce pain and inflammation
Red light therapy and infrared light therapy stimulate cellular activity and circulation, which could help reduce pain and inflammation

Sometimes you stumble upon forgotten treasures that, surprisingly, continue to be relevant today. One such discovery that I recently made was an old LED red light lamp, which my grandmother-in-law used to treat her spondylitis pain. I was intrigued to find out that this ‘red light therapy’ machine, from a well-known household electronic brand, still worked after 35 years. It was in perfect condition emanating a faint red light and a soft heated air flow.

Red light therapy is also known as low-level laser therapy (LLLT), low-power laser therapy (LPLT), and photobiomodulation (PBM). In red light therapy, your skin is exposed to a lamp or laser with a red light. Part of your cells known as mitochondria (or power generators) absorb the rays and create more energy. This helps cells repair themselves and become healthier. 

“It works similar to photosynthesis for plants,” explains Nitin Khanna, 41, founder of Potenza Wellness, an advanced wellness clinic in Delhi NCR. How exactly does it work? “Red light therapy ensures proper oxygen is transported around the body by improving cellular function. This boost in the body’s natural healing cycle helps reduce inflammation and promotes healing of damaged tissue,” explains Khanna.

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You will often see red light therapy treatments in medical offices and spas. However, complementary treatments such as these require patience and time, and more often than not, multiple sessions in spas are usually expensive. So how can one incorporate red light therapy in one’s daily routine? At-home devices are by far the most popular way to try red light therapy in the comfort of your home. And going by demand, people seem to have caught on. German brand Beurer’s infrared lamp sales, for instance, have seen a 2x year-on-year growth in the last three years in India. “Red infrared light penetrates deep into the skin and provides relief from muscle and joint pain and our device’s flexible application is ideal for pain relief,” says Arun Yadav, head of e-commerce at Beurer India.

Does red light therapy help? 
According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, through the process of activating the body’s natural physiological responses, red light therapy allows the body to heal itself and accelerates recovery, thereby reducing pain. Its major benefits include easing muscle pain, improving joint mobility, healing muscle injuries and reducing soreness after exercise. Khanna from Potenza concurs. “Clients who may have pain indications will feel relief post a single session, and with repeated sessions, the overall effect is much greater,” he says.

Khushboo Ramnane, 39, a content consultant from Bengaluru isn’t particularly convinced. With a herniated disc, physiotherapists prescribed red light therapy to help her with inflammation. “I think it did help me momentarily. Or perhaps it did reduce the internal inflammation. But the newer crop of sports rehab therapists suggested guided movement and I believe that movement works better for me,” shares Ramnane. Vivek Baptist, head coach and pain management practitioner at ZEST - The Next Level, a gym in Kolkata, is of a similar opinion. “Red light therapy uses a low-level wavelength of light to heal issues. With regard to its potency, I think more studies need to be done that prove its efficacy for pain management”, argues Baptist.

Does red light therapy have any side effects? 
Dr Ashwani Maichand, director, department of Orthopaedics at the CK Birla Hospital (R), Delhi considers it safe with minimal side effects. One might experience mild skin irritation, eyestrain, headache, or fatigue. “It is generally considered safe and well-tolerated. It is a non-invasive procedure and these side effects are typically mild and temporary,” he clarifies. Travel blogger Meenakshi J, 40, from Shillong agrees. “I underwent red light therapy for a neck sprain. I sensed a noticeable difference after the initial session in my pain, and I cannot recall experiencing any significant side effects. There was a burning sensation at the area where the red light was focused but it subsided after an hour or so,” she shares.

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What about the risks of skin cancer? 
According to Dr Vivek Shrivastava, HOD, department of Physiotherapy, Fortis Hospital, New Delhi, there is no proven evidence or corelation between red light and infrared therapy and skin cancer. “Red light therapy produces warmth and heat which might not go well with an existing infective condition of the skin or underlying tissues. Cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy are not prescribed red light therapy but it is inconclusive to say that red light therapy causes cancer,” he assures.

While talking about red light therapy, it would be remiss to not discuss infrared light therapy. While both treatments help in pain management, a significant difference between the two is how deep their wavelengths penetrate the body. Infrared light is a type of energy your eyes can’t see, but your body can feel as heat. Red light is similar to infrared, but is visible to your eyes. Of late, both the therapies have gained attention as potential options for pain management and promoting tissue healing. “The underlying principle is that these therapies stimulate cellular activity and circulation, which could help reduce pain and inflammation and accelerate healing processes,” Dr. Maichand says.

47-year-old Shalini Mullick, a pathologist and writer from Gurugram agrees wholeheartedly. “I had severe pain from a tennis elbow and I could not move my right hand. The orthopaedic suggested infrared therapy sessions and the pain reduced significantly after daily sessions for two weeks. It helped me reduce my painkiller dosage as well. Once the acute phase resolved, we continued with the infrared therapy sessions at regular intervals and I recovered fully,” Mullick shares.

Ultimately, whether red light therapy or infrared therapy will work for you depends on the path you want to take for pain management, what your medical practitioner advises, and the extent of your pain. A complementary treatment in the form of red light or infrared therapy can be considered as a non-invasive alternative that might be able to help relieve some of your aches and pains but it is always safe to get the go-ahead from your medical practitioner before trying the treatment.

Who should avoid red light therapy? 
Dr. Vivek Shrivastava advises you to not try it if you have:

· An underlying skin or systemic infection

· An injury in the nearby tissue

· Any allergic conditions of skin or urticaria

· Any fungal infections

Aditi is an independent writer who writes on wellness, travel and food.

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