Myofascial pain commonly affects the body's soft tissues, including muscles, tendons, and ligaments. It is characterized by aching, stiffness, and soreness in the affected areas, leading to reduced mobility and a decreased quality of life. Various factors, including overuse, injury, and chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia, can cause myofascial pain.
Red light therapy, also known as low-level laser therapy (LLLT), is a non-invasive treatment that effectively reduces pain and inflammation in various conditions, including myofascial pain. This blog will explore the science behind red light therapy and how it can help alleviate myofascial pain.
What is Red Light Therapy?
Red light therapy is a treatment that uses low-level wavelengths of red light to penetrate the skin and stimulate cellular repair and regeneration. The red light used in therapy is 630-700 nanometers, which is believed to stimulate the mitochondria in our cells to produce more energy, which can help reduce inflammation and pain.
Red light therapy is delivered through various devices, including handheld devices, light panels, and full-body beds. The therapy is typically painless and non-invasive, and patients can undergo treatment in a clinical setting or at home.
How Does Red Light Therapy Work?
The exact mechanism of red light therapy is not fully understood, but several theories exist. One theory is that red light stimulates the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the energy currency of our cells. This increased production of ATP can help reduce inflammation and pain by providing the cells with more energy to repair and regenerate.
Another theory is that red light therapy stimulates nitric oxide production, a molecule that helps relax blood vessels and improve blood flow. This improved blood flow can help deliver oxygen and nutrients to the affected tissues, aiding their repair and regeneration.
Finally, red light therapy has been shown to stimulate the production of endorphins, natural painkillers produced by the body. The increased production of endorphins can help reduce pain and promote feelings of well-being.
Red Light Therapy and Myofascial Pain
There is a growing body of evidence that supports the use of red light therapy in the treatment of myofascial pain. In a 2014 study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, researchers examined the effects of red light therapy on myofascial trigger points in the neck and shoulders. The study found that red light therapy significantly reduced pain and improved the range of motion in the affected areas.
A 2016 study published in the Journal of Back and Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation examined the effects of red light therapy on patients with fibromyalgia. The study found that red light therapy significantly reduced pain and improved the quality of life in the patients who underwent treatment.
In a 2020 systematic review published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, researchers examined red light therapy's effectiveness in treating musculoskeletal pain. The review included 17 studies and found that red light therapy effectively reduced pain and improved function in patients with various musculoskeletal conditions, including myofascial pain.
What are Myofascial Trigger Points?
Myofascial trigger points are hyperirritable spots in the fascia (connective tissue) surrounding skeletal muscles. They are commonly called "knots" and can be felt as palpable nodules or bands in the muscle tissue. Myofascial trigger points are a common cause of muscle pain and can also cause referred pain, meaning pain that is felt in other parts of the body.
Myofascial trigger points can be caused by various factors, including poor posture, repetitive motions, overuse of muscles, injury, and stress. When a muscle is overused or injured, the fascia surrounding the muscle may become tight and constricted, which can cause a trigger point to develop.
The pain associated with myofascial trigger points can range from mild to severe and can be felt as a deep ache, burning sensation, or sharp pain. The pain can also be accompanied by stiffness, tenderness, and a limited range of motion in the affected muscle.
Treatment for myofascial trigger points typically involves a combination of manual therapies, such as myofascial trigger point release and exercises to improve muscle strength and flexibility. Red light therapy has also effectively reduced pain and inflammation associated with myofascial trigger points.
Who should use Red-light Therapy?
Many people can use red light therapy, including athletes and individuals with chronic pain. However, there are some groups of people who should exercise caution when using red light therapy or consult with a healthcare professional before starting treatment.
Pregnant women should consult with their healthcare provider before using red light therapy, as there is limited research on the safety of the therapy during pregnancy. People with photosensitive skin, such as those with lupus or porphyria, should also use caution when using red light therapy.
Individuals with certain medical conditions, such as epilepsy or cancer, should consult their healthcare provider before using red light therapy, as it may interfere with some medical treatments or medications.
There is a growing body of evidence that supports the use of red light therapy in the treatment of myofascial pain in athletes. A recent study published in the Journal of Athletic Training in 2020 examined the effects of red light therapy on athletes with myofascial pain.
The study included 16 collegiate athletes with myofascial pain in the quadriceps muscle. The athletes were randomly assigned to receive either red light therapy or sham treatment (placebo). The red light therapy was delivered using a handheld device with a wavelength of 630 nanometers and a power output of 100 milliwatts.
The athletes received four treatments over two weeks, each lasting 90 seconds. The researchers assessed the athletes' pain levels before and after each treatment using a visual analog scale (VAS). Also, they measured the athletes' pressure pain thresholds (PPT) using a pressure algometer.
The study results showed that the athletes who received red light therapy significantly reduced pain compared to the sham group. The athletes who received red light therapy also significantly increased pressure pain threshold, indicating a decrease in muscle tenderness.
The study concluded that red light therapy might be an effective treatment for athletes with myofascial pain, and further research is needed to determine the therapy's optimal treatment parameters and long-term effects.
Another study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2018 examined the effects of red light therapy on muscle soreness and performance in male collegiate athletes. The study included 20 athletes who received either red light therapy or placebo treatment after performing a strenuous exercise protocol.
The results of the study showed that the athletes who received red light therapy significantly reduced muscle soreness and improved performance on a vertical jump test compared to the placebo group.
In addition to these studies, several case reports and small studies have shown promising results for using red light therapy in athletes with myofascial pain.
Overall, the evidence suggests that red light therapy may be an effective treatment for athletes with myofascial pain. Still, more research is needed to determine the therapy's optimal treatment parameters and long-term effects.
The Benefits of Red Light Therapy
In addition to its effectiveness in treating myofascial pain, red light therapy has various other benefits. These include:
Non-Invasive: Red light therapy is a non-invasive treatment that does not require drugs or surgery.
Painless: Red light therapy is typically painless and well-tolerated by patients.
No Side Effects: Red light therapy has few side effects and is considered
In conclusion, myofascial pain is a common condition that can affect anyone, including athletes. Red light therapy is an effective and non-invasive treatment option for reducing pain and inflammation associated with myofascial pain. The growing body of evidence suggests that red light therapy can improve muscle tenderness, increase pressure pain threshold, reduce muscle soreness, and improve athletic performance.
With regular use, red light therapy can help you reduce pain and inflammation, improve muscle recovery, and promote overall well-being.
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About Michael Jones
Michael Jones, CErg. He's an Ergonomist and Speaker with 15 years of experience helping desk workers who are hunched over their computers and phone for hours, reverse their slouched posture and end text neck pain.