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Red Light Therapy For Arthritis: The Surprising Health Benefits

Last Reviewed on May 1, 2024

Looking to use red light therapy for arthritis? Here’s what the science says about this safe and effective treatment.

If you suffer from arthritis, you know how debilitating the pain and stiffness can be.

Luckily, there are all sorts of treatments and therapies available to help alleviate these symptoms, and one option that’s been gaining popularity in recent years is red light therapy.

But, what exactly is it?

And, more importantly, does red light therapy work for arthritis?

In this article, we’ll explore the benefits of red light therapy for arthritis and how it could be a solution to your chronic pain.

What Is Red Light Therapy?

Red light therapy is a non-invasive treatment that uses low-level light therapy to alleviate painful symptoms of arthritis.

By emitting red and near-infrared light wavelengths that penetrate deep into the connective tissue and joints, this therapy can reduce inflammation and stimulate tissue regeneration.

As a result, patients can experience improved range of motion, reduced pain and swelling, and an overall improvement in joint function.

Doctor treating arthritis joint pain with red light therapy

But, what types of arthritis can low-power light therapy treat?

The answer is… virtually all of them.

From degenerative osteoarthritis to inflammatory rheumatoid arthritis, red light therapy has demonstrated its effectiveness in clinical studies and trials.

And, the best part?

It’s completely safe and has minimal side effects, making it a more preferable option for many (especially elderly patients).

In fact, Michael Hamblin, PhD, who used to serve as the Principal Investigator at the Wellman Center for Photomedicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, said that “low-level laser (light) therapy (LLLT) is an alternative approach with no known side effects and with reports of substantial therapeutic efficacy in osteoarthritis” [1]

While some patients may experience immediate relief after the first few sessions, it’s important to remember that the therapy works at a cellular level and often requires consistent and frequent treatment sessions to achieve the desired results.

However, the benefits are worth it, and many patients report significant improvement in their arthritis symptoms.

If you’re looking for a safe and effective treatment option for arthritis, red light therapy may be just what you need. Reduce inflammation, improve range of motion, and relieve pain with this innovative therapy.

Consistency and duration are key when it comes to any type of LED therapy.

How Can Red Light Therapy Help With Arthritis?

Red light therapy can help with arthritis by reducing joint pain and inflammation, improving joint health and mobility, and relieving swelling and stiffness.

Reduce Pain Quickly & Effectively

Red light therapy can help relieve pain in those suffering from arthritis.

Lucie Brosseau, MSc, PhD and other researchers conducted a systematic review of red light therapy’s effects on rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

They looked at five placebo-controlled, clinical trials that involved 222 RA patients.

These researchers found low-level laser therapy to have reduced RA pain by 70% compared to the control [2].

Man with knee osteoarthritis

A clinical trial published in Journal of the American Geriatrics Society looked at 50 patients with knee osteoarthritis.

These elderly patients self-applied low-power light therapy on both sides of their knees for 15 minutes twice a day.

After 10 days, the patients who received red or near-infrared light reported a 50% reduction in pain.

What’s more, these pain relief benefits lasted!

Those that received red and near-infrared light therapy requested re-treatment in 4.2 and 6.1 months, respectively. Those that received the placebo treatment requested re-treatment in just 0.5 months [3].

That’s 8-12x longer pain relief after using narrow-band light therapy!

The best part across these studies is that red light therapy provided fast-acting and long-lasting pain relief with zero side effects.

Reduce Joint Inflammation

Red light therapy has been proven to have powerful anti-inflammatory effects that help reduce joint inflammation in arthritis sufferers.

Unlike traditional treatments such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and pain medications, red light therapy doesn’t have any negative long-term health effects.

So, how exactly does this work?

Red light therapy works by reducing the levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines in our cells [4].

With fewer inflammatory cells, there’s less inflammation present in the affected area (obviously!), resulting in reduced pain and discomfort.

Normally, these pro-inflammatory cytokines are “good” because they play a role in our immune response, helping fight off bacteria and viruses. But, in those with inflammatory arthritis, these molecules cause “too much” inflammation.

A study, published in Neuroscience, investigated the effects of photobiomodulation on inflammation using an animal model. The researchers concluded that “light-emitting diode therapy reduces persistent inflammatory pain” [5].

What’s more, a major review of several peer-reviewed clinical studies found “[red and near-infrared light] to act as an anti-inflammatory agent in a wide range of medical applications” [6].

As a result, red light therapy can be great for inflammation management, especially in those suffering from arthritis.

Improve Joint Health

Red light therapy can help promote joint health by stimulating the production of collagen.

Collagen is an essential protein in the body that plays a crucial role in the formation and repair of various tissues, including cartilage (the main type of connective tissue in our joints).

Connective tissue surrounds your joints and plays a vital role in maintaining joint health. Cartilage, for example, protects your joints and prevents the bones within your joints from rubbing together.

In those with joint disorders, the cartilage often begins to break down, leading to pain, stiffness, and swelling.

By increasing collagen production, this non-invasive treatment can help rebuild cartilage and combat the effects of arthritis.

In one randomized controlled trial, researchers concluded low-level laser therapy to be “more efficient in reducing pain and improving cartilage thickness” in those with knee osteoarthritis compared to the control group [7].

A randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled study found red light to help relieve knee pain in those with degenerative meniscus (the cartilage in front of the knee joint) [8].

In other words, this red light treatment is a great natural way to promote joint tissue health while relieving any chronic pain.

Relieve Swelling

Red light therapy can be a beneficial tool in reducing swelling and providing relief from a wide range of arthritis symptoms.

In one clinical study, patients suffering from Bouchard’s and Heberden’s osteoarthritis reported a significant reduction in swelling after just 5 treatments [9].

Elderly patient with Bouchard's and Heberden's osteoarthritis with swollen fingers

However, a systematic review of 5 placebo-controlled trials did not see a similar reduction in swelling in patients with rheumatoid arthritis [2].

As such, more research is needed before we can conclusively say red light therapy helps relieve swelling caused by arthritis.

Relieve Stiffness & Improve Joint Mobility

Red light therapy can help reduce stiffness and improve your joint mobility.

In a meta-analysis of 200+ rheumatoid arthritis patients, researchers found low-level laser therapy to reduce morning stiffness duration by 27.5 minutes and increase tip to palm flexibility by 1.3 cm [2].

Using low-power laser therapy can be a simple and effective way to reduce stiffness and improve your overall quality of life. 

Elderly woman with hand arthritis

Red Light vs. Near-Infrared Light: Which Is Best For Arthritis?

As mentioned earlier, red light therapy uses both red and near-infrared light to treat arthritis.

Is one better for treating arthritis?

First, it’s important to understand that red light wavelengths are more effective for treating “skin deep” conditions. This makes red light ideal for treating cartilage closer to the surface of the skin (like your knuckles) while providing other benefits (like stimulating collagen production).

However, it’s near-infrared (NIR) wavelengths that penetrate deeper into the tissues and are more effective for treating arthritis pain and stimulating cellular health.

Elderly woman standing in front of a red light therapy that's hanging on the back of a door

For optimal results, it’s recommended to use a combination of red and NIR wavelengths.

This combination allows for a deeper penetration of the light energy into the affected joint, reducing pain and inflammation, as well as promoting cellular rejuvenation.

Other Wavelengths That Might Help With Arthritis

When it comes to light therapy for arthritis, there are other wavelengths of light that may be effective for treating this condition.

While red and near-infrared (NIR) wavelengths are commonly used and have been studied extensively for their benefits for arthritis, there are certain wavelengths that may also help.

Diagram showing how deep each light wavelength penetrates into the skin

Let’s take a closer look at some of these wavelengths.

UV Wavelengths (100–400 nm)

When it comes to treating arthritis, UV light therapy might also be another effective treatment.

A study published in Clinical and Experimental Rheumatology found concentrated wavelengths of UV-A light (315-400 nm) to effectively reduce morning stiffness, fatigue, joint tenderness, and joint swelling in rheumatoid arthritis patients.

What’s more, these patients also reported improved grip strength [10].

An analysis of 221,929 women, published in Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, observed that those with the highest average UV-B (280-315 nm) exposure had a 21% less chance of developing rheumatoid arthritis than those with the lowest average UV-B exposure [11].

While promising, more clinical studies need to be done before we can say anything conclusive about UV light therapy for arthritis. 

Infrared Light

An infrared sauna, which often contain a mix of near, mid, and far-infrared light, may also be beneficial for those suffering from arthritis.

A pilot study published in Clinical Rheumatology found infrared light to reduce pain, stiffness, and fatigue in patients with rheumatoid arthritis [12].

However, these results weren’t statistically significant, so it’s entirely possible that those improvements were coincidental.

Wavelengths shorter than red light are not effective for the treatment of arthritis symptoms.

Scientific Studies On Red Light Therapy For Specific Types of Arthritis

In this next section, we’ll explore the findings of scientific studies on red light therapy for specific types of arthritis like osteoarthritis (OA), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and psoriatic arthritis (PA).

Red Light Therapy For Knee Osteoarthritis

A randomized controlled trial published in Lasers in Medical Science found low-level laser therapy to improve patient outcomes when combined with physical therapy [13].

Another randomized controlled study looked at using red light therapy for osteoarthritis of the knee.

Those that received the light therapy treatment reported significant joint pain relief, greater range of motion, and improved functionality [14].

Health knee joint vs. joint with knee OA

These findings are backed up by many other studies, including another randomized, placebo-controlled double-blind clinical trial published in Revista Brasileira de Ortopedia.

This study treated patients with knee osteoarthritis with near-infrared light 3 times a week for 3 weeks (for a total of 9 sessions). These men and women saw improvements across Lequesne and visual numerical scale (VNS) scores, indicating that this infrared therapy worked [15].

As a result, we see that red light therapy can be a game-changer for those suffering from knee OA pain.

Not only does it provide significant relief from pain, but it also helps to increase range of motion and function.

Furthermore, red light therapy may help increase the thickness of knee cartilage and reduce chronic inflammation, which could potentially provide long-term relief for OA sufferers.

Scientific studies have proven that red light therapy can be an effective treatment for OA knee pain relief.

Red Light Therapy For Heberden’s & Bouchard’s Osteoarthritis

Beyond treating osteoarthritis in the knees, red light therapy can also be used to help increase joint mobility and reduce pain and inflammation in other joints such as the hands and spine.

In one clinical study published in Lasers in Surgery and Medicine, researchers found red light therapy to safely and effectively reduce pain and swelling in those with Heberden’s and Bouchard’s OA.

After just 5 sessions, these patients reported improvements in pain, swelling, and range of motion [9].

By improving blood flow, reducing inflammation, and boosting cellular energy, red light therapy can help promote healing in damaged joints and improve joint mobility.

Red Light Therapy For Rheumatoid Arthritis

One of the key benefits of red light therapy is its ability to soothe inflammation, which is a leading cause of pain and discomfort in individuals with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

In a meta-analysis of 5 placebo-controlled trials, researchers found red light therapy to:

  • Reduce pain by 70%
  • Reduce morning stiffness by 27.5 minutes
  • Increase tip to palm flexibility by 1.3 cm

in patients suffering from RA [2].

A histological study of how red light therapy affects the different stages of RA concluded that “LLLT is able to modulate inflammatory response both in early as well as in late progression stages of RA” [16].

In other words, red light therapy worked at both early and late RA progression stages.

While more research is needed to fully understand how red light therapy may work in treating RA specifically, there are numerous studies that highlight its effectiveness in treating related symptoms.

Studies have shown that red light therapy can help reduce the activity of inflammatory cells in the body, leading to lower levels of inflammation and pain [4].

Red Light Therapy For Psoriatic Arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that affects both the skin and joints. It’s characterized by joint pain, stiffness, and swelling, as well as patches of red, scaly skin. People with this condition often experience morning stiffness, which can last for hours, and it can be quite debilitating.

Diagram of a hand with psoriatic arthritis

Fortunately, there is a potential treatment option that can help alleviate some of the symptoms associated with psoriatic arthritis: red light therapy.

A preliminary study treated 9 men and women with chronic psoriasis with continuous-wave red (630 nm) and near-infrared light (830 nm).

Clearance rates ranged from 60% to 100%, with researchers concluding that “LED phototherapy is easy to apply, pain free and side-effect free, and is well tolerated by patients of all skin types” [17].

That said, narrowband UV-B phototherapy still remains the “gold standard” for treating psoriasis.

A combination of red light therapy (to manage the arthritis) and UV-B light therapy (to manage the psoriasis) might be an effective treatment option for psoriatic arthritis sufferers looking for a natural alternative.

Treating Arthritis at Home Using Red Light Therapy

When it comes to using red light therapy to treat arthritis at home, there are a ton of red and near-infrared light therapy devices to choose from.

Here’s what to consider when choosing red light therapy devices for arthritis.

Irradiance & Power Output

If you’re looking for a red light therapy device to manage your arthritis pain, it is essential to select a device that has a high irradiance (aka power output).

A high-output device is necessary to provide deep tissue penetration and maximum therapeutic effect when using light therapy for arthritis.

You also want to look for a medical-grade LED light therapy device that is FDA-cleared.

This will ensure that you’re selecting a device that is safe and effective.

Tip: Look for a device with an irradiance >100 mW/cm2.

Device Size

To make sure you address your specific arthritis pain needs, you should consider the areas of your body affected by joint pain and select a device size that will effectively treat those areas.

The good news is that LED light therapy devices come in various size options (ranging from targeted to fully-body), so you can select the best one for your situation.

Wavelengths

Look for a device that combines red and NIR light wavelengths for the best results. This combination is particularly effective in managing arthritis, as it can penetrate deep into the tissues to provide relief at the cellular level.

Combining red and near-infrared wavelengths is essential because each wavelength has unique benefits for arthritis. Red light promotes cell-level healing and collagen production in joints, which helps to reduce pain and improve joint flexibility. NIR light, on the other hand, is particularly effective in reducing inflammation, swelling, and tenderness, which are all associated with arthritis.

How To Use Red Light Therapy For Arthritis 

To make sure that you’re getting the most out of your red light therapy sessions, it’s important to expose your bare skin to the light for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. This should be done three to five times per week.

Keep in mind that red light therapy is not a cure for arthritis, but rather an effective treatment for managing its symptoms.

For this reason, ongoing maintenance sessions may be required. These sessions should be consistent in duration and frequency.

By following these guidelines and being consistent with your red light therapy treatment, you can effectively manage your arthritis symptoms and improve your joint function in a safe and natural way.

Remember, when it comes to alleviating arthritis symptoms through red light therapy, consistency is key.

Real Experiences: What People Are Saying

If you’re considering trying out red light therapy for your arthritis symptoms, it’s always helpful to hear about the experiences of other users.

Here are some notable user experiences that illustrate how this therapy has helped them reduce pain and improve joint mobility.

Joseph L. reported that it “has changed my life through removing the pain I was experiencing in my knees and shoulders.”

Another user, Cathy S., said that “my brother in law is very pleased with how it had helped his knee pain” and that “he no longer takes any medication.”

Roberta F. shared that “I experience a sense of relaxation and relief from joint tenderness” and calls it “the perfect way to start my day.”

Overall, users have reported that red light therapy has been a game-changer for them in terms of managing their arthritis symptoms.

Final Thoughts

There is a growing pile of evidence that red light therapy can be an effective treatment option for individuals with arthritis, offering pain relief and improved joint mobility.

If you’re struggling with joint pain and stiffness, consider talking to your doctor about incorporating red light therapy into your arthritis treatment plan.

After all, red light therapy can be used alone or in combination with other treatments, making it a convenient and versatile tool in your arthritis management arsenal.

Plus, it has zero adverse side effects when used as intended.

With the potential to reduce inflammation and promote cellular regeneration, it may be just the solution you need to get your joints moving again.

References

At TherapeuticBeams.com, we only use peer-reviewed medical journals as references for our articles.

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3978432/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16235295/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1727843/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5523874/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27001179/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31170016/
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27913970/
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23093133/
  9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26833862/
  10. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3440328/
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3678095/
  12. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18685882/
  13. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26420240/
  14. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22169831/
  15. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27027049/
  16. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22538842/
  17. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19764893/
Anne, Founder of Therapeutic Beams

Anne Linde

Since using it to clear up her acne in college, Anne has been an avid user and fan of all things light therapy. She now primarily uses red light therapy for its anti-aging benefits. Anne's mission is to make the science behind red light therapy easy to understand and accessible, so anyone can use it to take control of their health and wellbeing.

John Ni, BSc.

John, a graduate of the prestigious University of Pennsylvania, serves as a respected scientific reviewer at TherapeuticBeams.com. His expertise extends across various domains, including chemistry, pharmaceuticals, and dermatology. He contributes to publications like Royal Society of Chemistry, Drug Topics, and Practical Dermatology.

John Ni, Content Editor & Scientific Review

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