Can Light Therapy Treat Chronic Pain

There has been recent interest in using light therapy to treat many conditions from skin ailments to chronic inflammation and pain, and for increased healing after surgery or injury. In the light spectrum, the type, or color, of the light determines its wavelength which dictates the depth it will penetrate the body. Therefore, blue light would be optimal for superficial or skin lesions, as it does not penetrate the body deeply, infrared (IR) light for deep soft tissues, and red light for the tissues between the two. The premise for light therapy is that the light works on the parts of the cells referred to as the mitochondria, or the cells’ power generators, which soak up this energy and then generate more energy using it. It also activates the cascade that produces Nitrous Oxide which is a potent vasodilator bringing in blood flow and healing mediators into the soft tissues. Experts believe that the combination of these two effects helps the cells repair themselves, promoting healing and healthier tissue.

Light therapy can be delivered in many ways including light pads, blankets, lamps, saunas, and lasers. For most chronic pain patients, the red to infrared light spectrum is the most beneficial.

Treating Chronic Pain with Light Therapy

Red Light Therapy (RLT) helps muscle tissue, skin, and other parts of the body heal. It works by exposing the affected parts of the body to low levels of near-infrared light. While the eyes can’t see infrared light, the body can feel its heat. Red Light Therapy is also often referred to as low-level laser therapy, low-power laser therapy, or photobiomodulation. The deeper the penetration, ie IR light, and the more focused the light such as in a laser, the more energy and blood flow is produced, creating the most heat in the body and promoting healing focally in one spot. For these devices, a nurse or doctor is required for their operation. The less intense, more generalized light therapies such as light blankets, lamps, and saunas can be found in wellness or health centers, or can even be purchased for personal use in one’s home.

Red light therapy produces low levels of heat, which is why it will not burn or hurt the skin. It isn’t the same light you encounter in a tanning booth, and you’re not exposed to the damaging UV rays as you would be out in the sun.

The benefit of red/IR light therapy in the instance of pain relief is that it helps the body heal faster. It has been found to be highly beneficial in numerous instances of muscle pain and chronic joint pain. Many athletes use IR light therapy to recover more quickly from strenuous sessions of exercise so that they can get back to physical activity faster.

Red/IR Light Saunas

A red/IR light sauna uses red and/or IR light to create blood flow and energy directly in the body cells which subsequently heats the body as opposed to a traditional sauna which uses warmed air to warm the body.

The appeal of saunas has always been that they can cause reactions that are similar to what you’d expect from moderate exercises like increased heart rate and lots of sweating. The infrared sauna, as you’d expect, produces these results at lower temperatures than a regular sauna, making it accessible to those who can’t tolerate the heat associated with a conventional sauna. But the question is, does it translate to any tangible health benefits?

Over the years, several studies have examined the use of infrared saunas when it comes to treating various chronic health problems, like congestive heart failure, blood pressure, dementia, headaches, Alzheimer’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and type 2 diabetes. However, currently, there are larger, more rigorous studies underway to confirm the results. Many of these studies are comparing the effects with those that people have experienced from a traditional sauna.

Fortunately for those concerned, there are no adverse effects being reported associated with the use of infrared saunas. That’s why if you’re considering trying a sauna for relaxation or chronic pain relief, it may possibly be a good option.

Who Benefits Most from IR Saunas

Over the years, several studies have closely looked at infrared saunas when it comes to treating chronic health issues, such as easing the pain of diseases, arthritis, and reducing muscle soreness. It has also been studied in cases of improving mobility, reducing stress levels, and promoting relaxation while improving the feelings of well-being by increasing blood circulation. Many people also use it as an optional pain treatment method, especially for chronic pain, and it can help complement physical therapy as well as injury treatment.

Studies on athletes have found that it promotes faster healing, which is why infrared saunas are often used in conjunction with good nutrient intake, massage, and sleep across many sports. It is also seen as being an alternative to medication, especially for people who suffer from chronic or hard-to-treat pain.

Why Might You Want To Avoid An IR Sauna?

While in our experience, an IR Sauna is great for treating various types of chronic pain, there are some people who might want to avoid it or use it with caution. Most IR light saunas have many different settings and can be lowered in intensity as well as limited in time for those who may be more sensitive to potential heat, sweating, and dehydration. When considering being able to benefit from the relaxation and warmth offered by a sauna, take the proper precautions of listening to your body, making sure the saunas are properly monitored by personnel in case you need help, and ensuring cooling washcloths and plenty of water is provided during the treatments to keep you safe.

We strongly advise that those with cardiovascular disease, a history of a heart attack, or a person with low blood pressure speak with a physician before using an IR sauna. That way, they will be aware of all the risks involved in the process. Anyone at risk for dehydration should use the sauna with caution. Some issues experienced in the sauna may include nausea, and dizziness, mainly caused by the high temperatures. Also, pregnant individuals will want to consult their physician prior to getting into an IR sauna.

The evidence surrounding the extended use of infrared saunas is still quite new. That’s why there is an insufficient number of studies to fully assess the negative effects associated with these saunas. However, if your physician has asked you to avoid the use of infrared saunas, then you’ll want to use an alternative form of pain relief.

Red/IR Light Laser Therapy Reduces Inflammation and Pain Without Adverse Effects

Laser therapy uses photobiomodulation; which means that the photons will enter the tissue and then interact with the cytochrome c complex in the mitochondria. The interaction helps to trigger an effect that decreases pain and inflammation. Unlike the use of medication, laser IR therapy does not have any adverse effects associated with its use. Many patients report experiencing long-lasting pain relief. However, the number of treatments needed will vary depending on the condition and the patient’s experience. In the event of chronic conditions, laser therapy is used to combat inflammation and pain. However, it requires an expert to administer the therapy. Lasers have many power ranges, which gives the therapist many options. The laser can be set as low as 0.5W or turned all the way up to 25W, which allows the therapist to customize the treatments.


In our experience, light therapy is ideally suited for treating many forms of chronic pain.

Even though there is a great deal of evidence and articles which suggest that light therapy is highly beneficial, you should get your doctor’s advice before entering into treatment. If you decide that light therapy is right for you, remember that much of the evidence is still new. But many people are already benefiting from the use of light pads, infrared saunas, and lasers, etc; some using them regularly are reporting a feeling of extensive pain relief.