What is red light therapy best used for?

red light therapy

Red Light Therapy: A Ray of Hope for Muscle and Joint Pain?

I was first introduced to red light therapy when I was a student athletic trainer at BYU for their men’s volleyball team back in 2005, nearly 20 years ago. It was a hand held device that we were supposed to hold over the athlete’s injury for a protocol for a few minutes in a few different spots. 

This seems very hokey to me.  Even worse was my instructors couldn’t explain what it was doing, if it would work, or what the evidence had to say about its effectiveness.  

Fast forward, nearly 20 years later and the evidence and application of Red Light Therapy, also known as NIR (Near-InfraRed) Light Therapy, is changing the game for healing.  

Let’s clear the fog on what it is, how it works (simply), and who it can help.  

Understanding Red Light Therapy:

Let’s start with the basics. Red Light Therapy and NIR Light Therapy are non-invasive treatments that harness the power of specific wavelengths of light to interact with your body’s cells. These treatments, often administered via specialized devices, are safe and painless.

Here’s how:

#1. Energizing Your Cells:

Red and NIR light penetrate your skin and reach as deep as the bone and trigger your cells. In your cells are structures called mitochondria that are known as the “power house” of the cell (ask your 4th graders). They make the smallest functional unit of energy called ATP. ATP is what allows your cells to function. The more ATP available the “functional” the cells are. 

So if the cells purpose is to fight infection, clear inflammation, heal, etc. you’re getting more energy for the cells to do that. It’s like being on a construction site with a crew normally restricted to working 8 hour days and turning them into 24 hour workers without fatigue. Or said differently, it’s like if you’ve ever been to Alaska and been shocked to see how green and beautiful the landscape is in the summer but wonder how it gets so green when half the year they only get a few hours of sunlight?? 

It’s because they get 20+ hours of sunlight during the summer, so their plants get more sunlight to help them grow. Red light triggers more cellular production to aid in tissue regeneration. This is vital for addressing muscle and joint pain, especially for those of us over 40. 

#2. Reducing Inflammation:

Inflammation is often the root cause of aches and pains. Red Light Therapy can help decrease inflammation and improve blood flow. By doing so, it offers a natural way to address the discomfort without the need for pills or injections.

#3. Stimulating Collagen Production:

Collagen is your body’s natural scaffolding. As we age, collagen production tends to slow down, leading to sagging skin and achy joints. Red light therapy encourages collagen production, helping you feel and look better.

More Cellular Insights:

Calming Cytokines: Within our bodies, there’s a group of small proteins called cytokines, and they play a significant role in inflammation. Some of these cytokines promote inflammation, while others are anti-inflammatory. Red Light Therapy has the remarkable ability to regulate these cytokines. It can decrease proinflammatory cytokines, helping to quiet down the inflammation in the affected areas, such as joints and muscles.

How is it Administered

#1. Non-Invasive and Safe:

One of the most exceptional aspects of Red Light Therapy and NIR Light Therapy is their non-invasiveness. You don’t need to go under the knife or rely on injections. No needles, no scalpels – just gentle light that touches your skin, making it a safer and more comfortable choice for many.

#2. Targeted Treatment:

These therapies allow for precise targeting of the affected areas. You can focus the light on the exact spot where you’re experiencing pain or inflammation. It’s like a spotlight on your trouble zones, ensuring the treatment goes exactly where it’s needed.

#3. Minimal Side Effects:

Unlike medications, which can come with a laundry list of potential side effects, Red Light Therapy typically has minimal to no side effects. You won’t have to worry about digestive issues, drowsiness, or other medication-related discomforts.

#4. Holistic Approach:

These therapies fit perfectly with a holistic approach to health and wellness. Just as you advocate for a well-rounded lifestyle that includes exercise and good nutrition, Red Light Therapy complements this approach. It’s a piece of the puzzle that helps your clients take better care of their bodies.

Who Should and Should NOT Use Red Light Therapy

Contraindications for Red Light Therapy: Who Should Avoid It?

Red Light Therapy is generally safe and well-tolerated, but there are specific contraindications, or conditions and situations in which it should be avoided. It’s essential to be aware of these contraindications to ensure your safety and well-being.

Here’s a list of who should avoid Red Light Therapy:

#1. Pregnant Women:

While Red Light Therapy is considered safe for many people, pregnant individuals should exercise caution. It’s advisable to consult with a healthcare provider before undergoing Red Light Therapy during pregnancy, as there is limited research on its effects in this context.

#2. Photosensitivity:

If you have a condition that makes your skin sensitive to light, such as porphyria or systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), Red Light Therapy may not be suitable. Exposure to light in these cases can exacerbate symptoms.

#3. Active Skin Infections:

If you have an active skin infection, such as a bacterial or fungal skin condition, it’s generally best to postpone Red Light Therapy until the infection has cleared. The therapy could potentially worsen the infection or discomfort.

#4. Photosensitizing Medications:

Some medications can make your skin more sensitive to light, increasing the risk of sunburn or other adverse effects. If you are taking medications known to be photosensitizing, consult with your healthcare provider before using Red Light Therapy.

#5. Epilepsy:

In some cases, flashing or intense lights can trigger seizures in individuals with epilepsy. While Red Light Therapy typically involves continuous, non-flashing light, if you have epilepsy or a history of seizures, it’s a good idea to discuss this with your healthcare provider and consider any potential risks.

#6. Eye Protection:

It’s crucial to protect your eyes during Red Light Therapy sessions. Staring directly into the light source can potentially damage your eyes, so the use of appropriate eye protection, as recommended by the device manufacturer, is essential.

#7. Children:

Red Light Therapy is generally designed for use by adults. The safety and efficacy of the therapy in children and adolescents may not be well-established. It’s best to consult with a healthcare provider for guidance if considering this therapy for a young person.

#8. Active Skin Cancer:

If you have skin cancer or are at high risk for skin cancer, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare provider before undergoing Red Light Therapy. The therapy may not be suitable in these cases.


Remember that the safety and suitability of Red Light Therapy can vary depending on the specific device, the treatment parameters, and your individual health circumstances. It’s always a good practice to consult with a healthcare provider or a qualified professional who can provide personalized guidance based on your unique situation.

By being informed and cautious, you can make the most of this therapy while ensuring your health and well-being.


In conclusion, Red Light Therapy and NIR Light Therapy offer a unique and effective way to reduce inflammation at the cellular level. By energizing your cells, regulating cytokines, and providing targeted treatment, they can be game-changers in the quest to stay pain-free and active beyond 40.

Their non-invasive nature, minimal side effects, and alignment with holistic well-being make them a standout choice for those looking to avoid pills, injections, or surgery while finding joy in their journey through life. 🌞🔦💪


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For more related and knowledgeable articles:

Read Our Blog: Properly Recover From an Ankle Injury

Read Our Blog: Why does my ankle Pain Keep coming back?

Watch our Physical Therapy success stories to learn more about how we helped our patients have a better life:

Sports Injury - Joel's Success story

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Nick Hunter, PT, DPT

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