Fitness, Inflammation & Pain

Fitness, Inflammation & Pain


TLDR: Benefits of red light therapy include reduced inflammation/pain, improved post workout recovery or injury recovery, and even enhanced athletic performance. See what the research says:

Reduced Inflammation

Red light therapy is known to reduce inflammation in the body, leading to a host of benefits from pain and chronic condition relief, reducing swelling, muscle recovery, and more.

Inflammation, while a vital part of the body’s repair and defense systems, is known to cause all sorts of problems when it is uncontrolled or increased beyond where it should be. Inflammation is known to affect the body in profound ways, impacting cognitive function, weight gain/loss, aging, motor function, cancer, and many chronic conditions [47][48][49]. It is even known to impact or regulate mood and play a role in mood disorders such as depression or bi-polar disorder [50].

Research shows that this is accomplished by influencing cytokine levels inside the body, which are immune signal cells responsible for regulating the inflammatory response. Red light therapy reduces pro-inflammatory response and increases anti-inflammatory response [51][52][53][54]. Primarily affected cytokines are IL-10, TNF-α, IL-1β, and IL-8. One study of macrophages in vivo (in a petri dish), found that exposure to red and infrared light reduced pro-inflammatory production and increased anti-inflammatory production by several times [54].

Pain Reduction

Pain reduction is a primary effect of beta endorphin release, as well as anti-inflammatory responses [55][56][57]. Inflammation and endorphins both work by influencing sensory neurons or fibers, with inflammation activating sensory neurons and endorphins preventing the firing of sensory fibers [29][56].

Research indicates that red light therapy is useful for a variety of acute and chronic pain relief applications including myofascial, neck, upper body, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia and other musculoskeletal conditions, stomatitis, and root canal pain [35][58][59][60][61]. Much of the research points to the benefits of red light therapy in the management of pain, as it does not require the use of pharmacological treatments (pain meds), and the often intense side effects and risks of these treatments could be avoided [60].

Improved Post Exercise & Muscular Injury Recovery

It has been shown that red light therapy improves both post exercise and other forms of muscular recovery. The anti-inflammatory properties of red light therapy certainly contribute to this effect [62][63][69].

Research also shows that there are a number of other effects of red light therapy such as decreased levels of lactic acid and creatine kinase, and reduction of delayed onset muscle soreness [64][65][66][67]. Lactic acid is a byproduct of muscle use which elevates following exercise, while creatine kinase is a biomarker of muscle damage seen post exercise. Both are used as indicators of muscle damage and recovery in research.

Enhanced Athletic Performance

Interestingly, the application of red light therapy also has shown to significantly improve muscle performance, by increasing the time to fatigue [63][64][67][68]. One research article found that in 10 professional male volleyball players, red light therapy was able to increase the number of bicep curls by 12.9% [64]. Red light therapy is effective in improving performance when applied both pre and post exercise [69].

In fact, the effect of red light therapy is so pronounced in improving performance, one research article questions whether it should be permitted to be used in athletic competition. This article reviewed 46 different research publications, all of which showed the positive benefits in muscle performance and recovery. They also found that red light therapy can increase muscle mass gained following exercise [69].

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