Infrared light therapy is a non-invasive method typically used for pain relief and to heal deep injuries, although the benefits extend much further. Infrared helps energy production, healing and metabolism throughout the body.
What is infrared light?
Infrared light refers to photons with a slightly longer wavelength than red, being just outside of the human eyesight perception range. There are 3 types of infrared; Far, Mid and Near infrared. We are only interested in near infrared for the purposes of light therapy.
Biologically active infrared wavelengths extend from around 700nm to 1000nm. Mid and far IR radiation are not biologically active but still have a warming effect, being absorbed by water of your body.
How it works
Near infrared energy in this range is absorbed by cells (specifically a protein pump in cells called cytochrome oxidase), making metabolism more efficient. This is essentially same mechanism as red light and comes with several other effects:
- Improved blood flow, increasing the flow of nutrients and resources.
- Cellular regeneration is stimulated – faster healing and less chance of scars.
- Reduced inflammation & pain – works by treating the source of inflammation
- Increased energy – enhancing and supporting the body’s natural processes on a cellular level
The difference is that infrared light can penetrate more deeply than red does (which is primarily absorbed in the first inch of skin).
Infrared can reach deep into joints, muscles and even shows promise for improving eyesight.
What can it be used for?
Infrared light therapy works on a very similar mechanism to visible red, however infrared cannot be seen by the human eye.
Infrared actually passes further inside the body than red, so it can reach muscles, bones, organs, and even the brain.
Due to this penetrative property, infrared light therapy treats deeper seated issues of the body:
- Brain injuries and conditions such as alzheimers
- Nerve related issues such as multiple sclerosis and parkinson’s
- Heart attack and stroke damage/prevention
- Back pains and spinal cord/muscle issues
- Joint pains and inflammation such as arthritis
- Fat/weight loss and maintaining lean mass
Given a powerful enough source, infrared light can penetrate the skull and muscle tissue, which is why it helps the conditions listed above and more. Studies have been done showing beneficial effects on nerve regeneration and spinal regeneration, preventing and treating the harmful effects of heart attacks and brain degeneration and injury.
In theory infrared light could be used for many things, such as reduction of harm to lungs from smoking, general digestion such as bloating or constipation, thyroid and reproductive organ health – it works on a foundational level of the body, improving energy production in any cell, anywhere in the body.
Infrared therapy has been available in the form of at-home devices for years now, and in hospitals for decades. The future potential for light therapy in clinical settings is broad, because infrared light doesn’t just treat symptoms, it actually treats the root cause of any health problem.
The Wavelengths of Infrared Light Therapy
As mentioned above, 700-1000nm infrared wavelengths are the most effective for therapy. These wavelengths alone activate the cytochrome enzyme in mitochondria, which generates ATP.
830 nm and 760nm are absorbed more efficiently than other wavelengths, but any red or infrared light between 610 nm and 1000 nm will have a positive effect. Energy over 1000 nm wavelength is mostly absorbed by water molecules, or passes through your body.
How good is infrared at relieving pain?
Infrared therapy is one of the most effective tools at reducing pain, having been proven in dozens of studies.
Most patients experience a swift decrease in pains, such as back pain and headaches, within minutes of treatment.
After 15 minutes of therapy, headaches can be gone for good, temporary tooth ache can be eliminated and chronic back pain reduced significantly after several sessions.
What Kind of Light Do You Need?
The type of light source does not matter much; all that matters is wavelength and total lumen output.
Most at-home products on the market are far too weak to have real benefits. So getting a device with optimised wavelengths is important, but having a strong power usage of at least 50w is key to success with any deeper issue. Weaker lights however will still have some benefits to the skin if used for long enough.
LED light sources are the most efficient, especially for infrared output, being 30% more efficient than standard LEDs, which themselves are more efficient than other light sources. Non-LED lights will likely not be strong enough for maximum benefits even up to 400w. See below for a fully optimised infrared light therapy device.