Dealing with pain in any part of the body is a frustrating, often debilitating experience. And if you’ve been experiencing pain in the musculoskeletal system or on account of peripheral neuropathy, you may already be looking at different remedies to alleviate the pain.
Infrared (IR) laser therapy is an increasingly popular treatment method for pain management. With millions of people suffering from musculoskeletal pain and peripheral neuropathy worldwide, the demand for non-invasive and effective treatments like IR laser therapy has increased exponentially.
This article will explore how IR laser therapy works and how it can benefit those with musculoskeletal pain or painful peripheral neuropathy. Let’s dive in.
What Is Infrared Laser Therapy?
Infrared (IR) laser therapy is a popular form of light or laser therapy that specifically uses infrared radiation for pain management. It is most commonly used for patients with chronic or acute pain.
Infrared radiation is a kind of electromagnetic radiation. Its wavelengths range from 780 nanometers (nm) to 1,000 microns (μm). It has three different bands that include:
- Near-Infrared (NIR): 0.78 μm to 3 μm
- Mid-Infrared (MIR): 3 μm to 50 μm
- Far-Infrared (FIR): 50 μm to 1,000 μm
Generally, IR light therapy uses light wavelengths of more than 800 nm for treating pain or injuries in different body parts. This light therapy is usually used in infrared saunas that often use wavelengths in the 1,000 nm range. The difference between an infrared sauna and infrared laser has to do with the concentration of wavelengths and the power that is introduced into the body. The power of a laser is much higher than in a sauna so that the light transmitted into the body is not completely absorbed by the superficial soft tissues as it is in the sauna. With the increased power there is enough infrared remaining to affect the deeper soft tissues at a cellular level to induce healing. In addition, not all lasers are created equal. Only the Class IV lasers have the power to deliver enough infrared light into the deeper tissues to affect change.
IR light laser therapy has been utilized for over a decade. In addition, infrared light itself is not new at all. It is essentially the heat that you feel when you go out in the sun. Moreover, it is not only the sun that gives off infrared radiation but our bodies also naturally emit infrared heat daily.
You should also know that infrared light differs from the sun’s ultraviolet light. Ultraviolet light damages the body’s cells and tissues, whereas infrared light helps in cell repair or regeneration. Infrared light also improves the flow of oxygen-rich blood throughout the body, reduces inflammation, alleviates pain, and promotes rapid healing of deep tissues. It also offers many other important health benefits that have come to light in recent years.
IR light laser therapy is thus a non-invasive and painless therapy that is effective, safe and has no adverse side effects.
How Infrared Laser Therapy Works
Infrared light has long wavelengths that can penetrate about two to seven centimeters deep into the skin, and this allows it to reach the muscles, nerves, and bones. As discussed above, however, having enough infrared light into the deeper tissues can only be obtained with a class IV laser.
As the class IV laser can reach the deeper soft tissues, it provides better access to treat pain, inflammation, and other underlying health conditions. Infrared light wavelengths between 700 and 1,000 nanometers are best for treating inflammation and pain.
Once the photoreceptors in cells absorb the infrared wavelengths, they trigger a series of metabolic responses. This, in turn, sets off different natural bodily processes on a cellular level and stimulates cellular metabolism.
One of the reasons IR laser therapy is effective lies in nitric oxide, a gas crucial for our arteries’ smooth functioning. This gas helps relax the arteries, fights free radicals to combat oxidative stress, staves off clumping of platelets in the blood vessels, and controls blood pressure.
Nitric oxide thus helps improve blood flow to deliver oxygen and key nutrients to damaged body tissues. With the proper wavelengths, the laser increases blood flow as well as promotes increased oxygen release from the hemoglobin in the red blood cells in the soft tissues. This creates an excellent healing environment. With the addition of other wavelengths, the cells’ mitochondria are then activated via the cytochrome C oxidase enzyme to produce more energy and increase the function of the target cells for our body to reduce pain and inflammation.
Benefits of Infrared Laser Therapy
Today, IR laser therapy is used to treat a variety of different ailments. They include but are not limited to:
- Musculoskeletal pain
- Painful peripheral neuropathy
- Muscle tension
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Chronic knee injury pain
- Shin splints
- Plantar fasciitis
- Acute hand and wrist sprains
- Temporomandibular joint pain (TMJ)
- Surgical incisions
Here are some additional health benefits of this therapy:
Let us delve deeper into how IR laser therapy helps with musculoskeletal pain and peripheral neuropathy.
Infrared Laser Therapy for Musculoskeletal Pain
Several scientific studies over the years has supported the benefits of laser therapy for the musculoskeletal system. IR laser therapy can treat a wide range of musculoskeletal disorders, making it useful in orthopedics, physiotherapy, and sports medicine.
Laser therapy accelerates cellular metabolism to relieve pain in tendons, nerves, muscles, ligaments, and fascia, as well as increases healing in post-operative patients. Many of the lasers have additional shorter wavelengths in the red or blue spectrum that concentrate at the skin level to accelerate wound healing.
Laser therapy is especially useful in treating osteoarthritis, which is a degenerative disorder that affects the synovial joints and is also progressive and irreversible. It causes joint pain, reduced joint function, limps, synovial inflammation, and changes in the synovial liquid. Osteoarthritis often requires multimodal treatment that includes rehabilitation. Laser therapy has shown to be helpful when used with other forms of treatment, thus enabling multimodal treatment of this condition.
The role of laser therapy in regulating the body’s inflammatory process also makes it a popular treatment option for rheumatoid arthritis.
Infrared Laser Therapy for Painful Peripheral Neuropathy
IR laser therapy is also useful for treating pain in people with peripheral neuropathy. Approximately 65% to 80% of patients with peripheral neuropathy experience pain as one of the symptoms of the disease.
When a person has neuropathy, it causes a reduction in blood flow. This leads to the deterioration of the myelin sheath, which is the insulating layer that protects the nerves.
IR laser therapy helps improve blood supply in the body by providing oxygen and nutrients to the nerves. It helps them remyelinate and function properly, which, in turn, offers pain relief in neuropathy patients.
There is also research to back this up. Dr. Shawn Richey from the Neuropathy Treatment Centers of Pittsburgh provided light therapy treatment to more than 5,000 neuropathy patients. Around 70% of the group reported that the therapy helped relieve some pain and improve function.
How Many Laser Therapy Sessions Do You Need to Benefit From the Treatment?
The number of treatment sessions you’ll require depends on various factors, such as the nature of your medical condition, duration, and severity. People with severe pain and other acute conditions may need about six sessions or less.
On the other hand, patients with chronic pain may need 16 sessions or more. Some people with chronic conditions may need ongoing care to experience pain relief and improved functionality.
Peripheral neuropathy patients usually require 16 treatments which result in significant, lasting relief.
How Does a Laser Therapy Session Feel?
Many people who undergo a laser therapy session find it a warm, soothing experience. The treatment involves using a high-powered therapy laser, so you may feel your skin getting warm throughout the treatment.
Many patients also report feeling a marked decrease in pain after their first therapy session. Sometimes, patients may also feel a little more pain as soon as the treatment ends and then feel improvements in their health the next day.
Risks of Infrared Laser Therapy
IR laser therapy has no adverse effects when used properly; however, its overuse may have a few harmful side effects. If you opt for this therapy, use it with caution to avoid burns. It can also potentially damage your eyes as they are highly sensitive to infrared light.
If you plan to try this therapy, make sure that a qualified medical professional administers the infrared treatment.
IR laser therapy can help with different types of pain, including acute, chronic, superficial, and deep pain. It is especially beneficial for treating pain in the musculoskeletal system and painful peripheral neuropathy.
Make sure you follow the medical professional’s guidelines and stick to the treatment plan. This will help you fully reap the therapy’s benefits with no side effects.
If you wish to know more about the different options you can try to treat chronic pain, head over to our website and contact our team. They are experts in musculoskeletal and neuropathy pain management and will help you deal with your pain better.
You can also check out our vast blog section for more handy resources and articles on pain management. Happy reading!