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Red Light Therapy for Fibromyalgia: Does This Treatment Work?

Last Reviewed on July 1, 2024

Discover the science behind red light therapy for fibromyalgia. Explore the potential benefits (and limitations) of this non-invasive treatment option.

Red light therapy is a popular and evolving treatment method that’s been used to treat a variety of medical conditions.

But, does it work for fibromyalgia?

The short answer?

Maybe.

Early research is promising, but more is needed before we can say anything conclusive.

Here’s what the science says so far:

One placebo-controlled study, published in Journal of Back and Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation, concluded red light therapy (also known as low level laser therapy) to have “both short and long-term effectiveness in the treatment of fibromyalgia” [1].

What’s more, a 2019 meta-analysis of 325 fibromyalgia patients found red light therapy to provide some relief for fibromyalgia symptoms, concluding that “[low level laser therapy] is an effective, safe, and well-tolerated treatment for fibromyalgia” [2].

That said, fibromyalgia is a complex condition that doesn’t have a cure or a clear, standardized treatment method. Many patients find themselves contending with the pain of this condition on a daily basis.

Over the course of this article, we’ll discuss the many potential benefits (and important limitations) of red light therapy for fibromyalgia. 

If you’ve never heard of red light therapy, it involves exposing the body to low-intensity red light wavelengths, which are thought to stimulate cellular processes and promote healing in some patients.

What Can Red Light Therapy Help With?

Red light therapy has been shown to provide potential benefits for various conditions, including symptoms associated with fibromyalgia. This therapy utilizes red and near infrared light to penetrate the skin and stimulate cellular activity.

In the case of fibromyalgia, red light therapy may help alleviate muscle pain and tenderness, thus reducing the intensity of pain signals. It can also enhance blood flow, leading to improved oxygen and nutrient supply to muscles. This can help reduce fatigue. 

Furthermore, red light therapy has been reported to enhance sleep quality, alleviate stiffness, and promote relaxation – all of which can contribute to the overall management of fibromyalgia symptoms.

Diagram of common fibromyalgia symptoms

Red Light & Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder that is characterized by widespread pain, fatigue, and cognitive difficulties (aka “fibro fog”).

It affects millions of people around the world, and traditional treatment options such as medications and physical therapy may not always be effective. This is, in part, because of the many unanswered questions around the nature of fibromyalgia and what exactly causes pain in individuals.

Woman with fibromyalgia with lower back pain

While there is no cure for fibromyalgia, there are some treatments out there, like red light therapy, that can improve your day-to-day life.

But, how exactly does red light therapy help fibromyalgia?

Red light therapy has shown promise in several medical areas, including pain management, brain health, sleep regulation, and even gastrointestinal health.

In the next few sections, we’ll go through the various ways that red light therapy might help someone suffering from fibromyalgia. 

Relieve Pain

For someone with fibromyalgia, they may experience widespread and chronic pain. The exact reasons for the pain with fibromyalgia are not fully understood, but it is believed to involve abnormalities in pain processing and sensitivity [3].

Man with fibromyalgia with neck pain

The low-intensity wavelengths used in red light therapy, also known as photobiomodulation (PBM), are thought to penetrate the skin and stimulate the mitochondria, the powerhouse of our cells. This stimulation may boost cellular energy production and promote cellular repair, potentially reducing pain sensitivity and inflammation associated with fibromyalgia.

In one patient case study, researchers noted that 1) “[PBM] may help decrease the excitability of [C-fiber nociceptors] at normal resting levels” and 2) “PBM stimulates the local release of nitric oxide, which is a vasodilator, thus restoring balance in blood flow by increasing oxygen to the area” [4].

(That’s a lot of confusing scientific lingo.)

What does all this mean?

First, some important context.

Some scientists believe that the pain caused by fibromyalgia is, in part, from hyper-sensitive nociceptors (tiny sensors that let us know when something hurts) [5].

When these tiny sensors are hyper-sensitive, they can send pain signals to your brain even when there’s no real injury.

It’s like having an alarm system that goes off too easily, even when there’s no need for it.

This can cause things that normally wouldn’t hurt (e.g. gentle touches) to cause you pain.

Does that make sense?

Red light therapy can help calm these tiny sensors, so they stop going off at every little thing.

Now, onto the second point.

Patients with fibromyalgia often have lower blood circulation in their tender points [6].

This means less oxygen is being delivered to cells in those areas – which can lead to hypoxia-induced pain.

Red light therapy can increase your blood circulation by boosting nitric oxide production [7].

This results in more oxygen being delivered to those oxygen-starved cells, relieving any hypoxia-induced pain.

Illustration of increased blood flow

It’s important to note that individual responses to red light therapy may vary and the extent of pain relief experienced can differ from person to person. Some individuals may experience significant pain reduction, while others may experience more modest improvements.

Reduce “Fibro Fog”

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that not only affects the musculoskeletal system, but also puts stress on the central nervous system. 

Individuals with fibromyalgia often experience cognitive difficulties, such as problems with memory and concentration. This is what some call “brain fog” or “fibro fog”.

Woman with fibromyalgia with brain fog and fibro fog

While more research is needed, clinical studies have suggested that there are some positive effects in patients that decide to try out red light therapy.

One potential way that red light therapy may improve brain health is by reducing inflammation. 

Inflammation is believed to play a role in the development and progression of fibromyalgia, including its impact on the central nervous system [8].

By reducing neuroinflammation, red light therapy may help alleviate the cognitive difficulties and fatigue experienced by individuals with fibromyalgia [9].

Better Sleep

Fibromyalgia patients often report having sleep problems, which can further worsen symptoms like chronic fatigue [10].

Red light therapy may potentially improve sleep quality through a couple different mechanisms. 

This light-based treatment has been shown to influence your body’s internal clock (aka your circadian rhythm). Exposure to red light during specific times of the day can help regulate the production of melatonin, a hormone that plays a crucial role in promoting sleep [11].

Woman with fibromyalgia sleeping in bed

Exposing individuals to red LED light at the right times of day, such as in the evening or before bedtime, may help them optimize the release of melatonin and regulate the sleep-wake cycle. This can contribute to better sleep quality and a more regular sleep pattern.

Melatonin, a popular over-the-counter medication, is typically released in the body’s response to darkness and helps signal the body that it is time to sleep. However, exposure to certain wavelengths of red light can also stimulate its production.

Healthier Gut

While fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are two separate medical conditions, there is a close association between the two. Many fibromyalgia sufferers experience symptoms of IBS [12].

Although research in this area is still developing, some studies suggest that red light therapy may help patients who are suffering from gastrointestinal problems like IBS via its anti-inflammatory effects.

After all, inflammation can play a significant role in various gastrointestinal conditions, including those fibromyalgia patients contend with [13].

Red light therapy has also been shown to positively impact the gut microbiome [14].

Man with gastrointestinal issues

How To Use Red Light Therapy For Fibromyalgia

If you have fibromyalgia, you might be considering red light therapy.

Here are two important considerations before starting:

  • It’s important to consult with a healthcare professional who can provide customized recommendations based on your individual circumstances. This treatment might not be right for everyone.
  • Red light therapy should be used as a complementary treatment, not as a substitute. You’ll see the best results when adding this therapy to your existing treatment plan.

Another thing you should know upfront is that red light therapy can be administered using various devices, such as full-body panels, handheld devices, or light therapy beds.

When figuring out which device is right for you, consider:

  • The intensity of light
  • The specific wavelengths used
  • The treatment area

For example, if you have widespread pain all over your body, a full-body panel or light therapy bed will work better. But, if the pain’s concentrated in a small area, you might prefer a smaller, handheld device.

Woman doing red light therapy while laying down

The next thing to consider is the duration and frequency of your treatment. These will depend on your symptoms and the area you’re trying to treat.

It’s usually best to start with shorter treatment sessions, typically around 10 to 15 minutes, and gradually increase the time if your body reacts well.

Something that’s also important to keep in mind is the positioning of the red light therapy device (something that’s going to vary depending on the device you use).

Make sure to follow the instructions provided with your device for the recommended distance between the device and your skin. 

Generally, you’ll want to place the device at a comfortable distance from your body, usually between 6-12 inches away. Then, focus the device on the areas of your body where you experience the most fibromyalgia pain.

For best results, clean the area and remove any clothing that may interfere with the light.

Red light therapy is very safe, but there are a few safety precautions you’ll want to keep in mind. 

For example, make sure you wear eye protection or avoid looking directly at the light source, as it may be harmful to the eyes (it can be very bright!).

Woman with fibromyalgia using red light therapy while wearing eye goggles

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some frequently asked questions about using red light therapy for fibromyalgia.

Can Red Light Therapy Help Manage Fibromyalgia Symptoms?

Yes, red light therapy can help manage fibromyalgia symptoms. Many studies, like those mentioned above, show that red light therapy can help reduce pain sensitivity, improve circulation, reduce chronic inflammation, enhance sleep quality, and more.

Is Red Light Therapy Safe?

Yes, red light therapy is generally considered safe, but, as with all treatments, only when used properly. It has little to no side effects and is non-invasive. But, you’re going to want to make sure to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any kind of red light therapy. 

Does Red Light Therapy Help With Inflammation In The Body?

Yes, red light therapy has been shown to have some important anti-inflammatory effects that can help those with fibromyalgia or other conditions. It can modulate immune cell activity, reduce the production of pro-inflammatory substances, and promote tissue repair.

Can You Get Too Much Red Light Therapy? 

No, you can’t really get too much red light therapy as long as you’re using the treatment correctly. There comes a point of diminishing returns. But, for those with drug‐induced photosensitivity or those not wearing eye protection, overexposure may result in adverse effects like skin irritation or eye strain.

How Often Should You Do Red Light Therapy?

How often you do red light therapy depends entirely on your condition and your doctor’s recommendation. Aim for regular sessions, ideally daily or a few times per week, for best results because, with any light-based treatment, consistency is key.

Final Thoughts 

As we’ve explored, red light therapy offers several potential benefits for individuals with fibromyalgia. These benefits include pain relief, less “fibro fog”, better sleep quality, and more. 

If you have fibromyalgia, you may want to consider this form of treatment for whatever symptoms you’re experiencing. Your best next step is to consult with a healthcare professional who can provide personalized guidance and determine the most appropriate treatment plan based on your specific condition and needs.

Together, with their guidance, you can quickly determine the most suitable treatment approach and regain control of your life!

References 

  1. https://content.iospress.com/articles/journal-of-back-and-musculoskeletal-rehabilitation/bmr00137 
  2. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/333610638_Low-Level_Laser_Therapy_for_Fibromyalgia_A_Systematic_Review_and_Meta-Analysis
  3. https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/fibromyalgia
  4. https://www.practicalpainmanagement.com/pain/myofascial/photobiomodulation-treatment-fibromyalgia
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24243538/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1065312/
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23334615/
  8. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0889159118302423
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5523874/
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3691959/
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3499892/
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7083062/
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6159811/
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6859693/
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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