Can red light therapy help treat osteoarthritis?

Have you heard about red light therapy? Maybe you’ve seen those crazy face masks that make people look like aliens or miscast Star Wars extras.

Red light therapy is gaining traction as a tool to fight wrinkles, and improve wound care and scars, but can it also lessen the pain of osteoarthritis and even repair muscle tissue, and is there any truth in this miracle treatment?

So what exactly is red light therapy?

In simple terms, it’s a treatment method that exposes the skin to low-level wavelengths of red light.

Technically it’s known as photobiomodulation, so you can see how red light therapy as a term caught on.

Power plant in your cells

It is thought to work by acting on the mitochondria in your cells. Mitochondria are known as the ‘power plant’ in your cells. Expose them to red light and they soak it up as energy, and when the mitochondria have more energy, other cells can do their work more efficiently, including repairing skin and boosting new cell growth.

That’s the basic premise, but there is plenty of study going into exactly how that works, because at the moment there’s a lot of ‘well that looks better’ but not a lot of evidence about how that came to be.

Currently, red light treatment is being promoted as a therapy for common skin conditions including

  • Wound care
  • Stretch marks
  • Improve wrinkles, fine lines and age spots
  • Skin texture,
  • Sun damage
  • Psoriasis, rosacea and eczema
  • Acne
  • Case Integrative Health founder Dr Casey Kelly told Forbes Health that red light therapy boosts the ‘energy’ of cells, so they can do their job better.

“Think of it as your morning coffee – red light therapy helps your cells wake up and get the job done,” says Dr. Kelley.

However, it is also being touted as a treatment for dementia, dental pain, hair loss, osteoarthritis and tendinitis. And while there is a lot of research showing red light therapy works well with the above-mentioned skin conditions, there is less evidence about its other supposed benefits, apart from the osteoarthritis treatment.

Great promise

Studies show it has “great promise” as a treatment for osteoarthritis pain, in some cases, subjects have claimed they are experiencing up to 50 per cent less pain.

There is no cure for arthritis, no matter what form it comes in, only treatments, and all of those treatments come with side effects, especially medication. However, red light therapy is generally considered safe as long as you don’t expose yourself to high levels for too long.

You should always consult a doctor or dermatologist before you consider a new treatment, but there are plenty of red light products on the market these days, from face-fitting masks to panels to target specific areas.

Medical strength treatments are available from salons, dermatologists and even some dentists.

How did all start?

Space technology has given us a lot over the years, and red light therapy is just another one.

Back in the 90s, while up in space, staff on board the Columbia noticed while they were tending plants exposed to red lights, small cuts in their hands appeared to heal much quicker.

Now if you know your space science, you will also know cuts and wounds take much longer to heal in space, which has long been a problem for manned missions. You don’t want one of your expensive astronauts in whatever is the equivalent of space sick bay because he nicked his hand and now has a raging blood infection.

Space scientists are smart, so they put two and two together and started exploring how to use red light to heal skin wounds and lesions and NASA funded many years of research into the area.

Jan Fisher
Jan Fisher
Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.
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