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Red Light Therapy For Neuropathy: Putting An End To Neuropathic Pain?

Last Reviewed on February 1, 2024

Discover how red light therapy can help manage neuropathy symptoms, promote nerve regeneration, and offer pain relief in a convenient and easy manner.

Can red light therapy offer you pain relief for neuropathy? The answer is a resounding yes. This easy approach to pain management shows a lot of promise in relieving the symptoms that can make living with neuropathy extremely challenging.

Although it’s important to note that red light therapy isn’t a cure, it has the potential to manage everyday aches, pains, and tingling in an easy and convenient way. As someone who has suffered from chronic pain, I was prompted to look further into this therapy, and I’ve decided to share what I found with you.

In this article, we’ll:

  • Explore how red light therapy can help with pain relief from peripheral neuropathy
  • Understand more about the potential for nerve regeneration with red light
  • How to choose and use the best red light therapy devices on the market

How Does Red Light Therapy Work For Neuropathy?

Neuropathy occurs when there is damage or dysfunction to the peripheral nerves, which are responsible for transmitting signals between the central nervous system (CNS) and the rest of your body.

The intricate network of blood vessels that supply nutrients and oxygen to the nerves plays a pivotal role in this process.

Red light therapy, also called low-level laser therapy (LLLT) or photobiomodulation (PBM), can relieve neuropathic pain by using certain wavelengths of red and near-infrared (NIR) light.

An analysis published in 2017 on the biological effects and applications of red light reviewed several studies showing that nerve cells respond incredibly well to infrared light therapy [1].

Red light and near-infrared light therapy help to achieve pain relief by releasing nitric oxide (NO), which is a molecule that widens your blood vessels (vasodilation) for better blood flow and can help reduce chronic inflammation [2]. In turn, this helps to boost your overall blood circulation to deliver essential nutrients and oxygen needed for pain relief.

Now, let’s talk about nerve cells. Red light therapy stimulates the peripheral nervous system (PNS) in your body to produce more Schwann cells and fibroblasts [3, 4].

Schwann cells are mainly found in the PNS and wrap around individual nerve fibers. They create a protective layer known as the myelin sheath. This sheath acts as an electric insulator and allows nerve signals to travel through your body more effectively.

Peripheral neuropathy is caused by, as the name suggests, peripheral nerve damage, i.e. any nerve that isn’t the brain or spinal cord. However, Schwann cells can help to support the regeneration of damaged nerve fibers.

On the other hand, fibroblasts contribute to the structural support of tissues in the PNS. When it comes to the healing process, fibroblasts can form a tissue “bridge” between two ends of a damaged nerve, speeding up nerve regeneration. These peripheral nerve fibroblasts also secrete neurotrophic factors that promote the growth of healthy nerve cells [5].

Comparison of healthy and peripheral neuropathy nerve cells

Red Light Therapy Benefits: Neuropathy

Red and near infrared light therapies can be effective add-ons for those looking to enhance their neuropathy treatment.

Reduce Pain

One of the most welcome benefits of red light therapy is pain relief. Living with chronic pain can be incredibly frustrating, but you may be able to alleviate your symptoms using LLLT.

One 2014 study revealed that red light treatments may be effective for neuropathic pain relief after testing 660 nm and 980 nm wavelengths on adult rats with injured sciatic nerves.

The study found that when these animals with neuropathic pain were treated with red light wavelengths, it significantly lessened their pain, with 660 nm light having more therapeutic effects than the 980 nm wavelength [6].

So, if you have nerve pain like tingling or burning sensations, red light therapy may be an effective and convenient treatment.

It’s important to remember that light therapy isn’t necessarily a cure for neuropathy. Instead, it can help to make you more comfortable and manage your symptoms.

Person massaging wrist, indicating carpal tunnel syndrome pain

Regenerate Nerves

Another incredible advantage of red light therapy as a way to treat neuropathy symptoms is that it’s thought to support nerve regeneration. This was evidenced in a study published in 2010 that explored the regeneration properties of LED light therapy (660 nm) [7].

If you imagine that your nerves are like tiny wires that help you to feel and move, you may be better able to understand that these wires can easily get damaged. When this happens, it’s more likely that you’re going to experience pain or tingling in the affected area.

During the 2010 study, it was found that red light wavelengths helped to facilitate nerve regeneration, with effects lasting 7 days [7]. That means that with the help of light therapy, the nerves began to heal faster.

From this, it was deduced that red light gives your body’s natural wound healing and repair system a boost. This is because the light effectively interacts with and stimulates our mitochondria, which is what prompts our cells to get to work on repairing the nerves and restoring nerve function.

For the nerds (like me), 660 nm red light was found to increase antioxidation of the chamber fluid for 7 days (vs. 3 days in the control). Chamber fluid is produced after nerves are injured and contains neurotrophic factors that speed up nerve axon growth [7]. Think of this as your nerve cells spending more time in “healing” liquid.

When you’re dealing with nerve pain or numbness, consistent sessions of red light therapy could potentially reverse these symptoms. Although it may not be an instant transformation, it can be really helpful to aid in your recovery and ease the discomfort you may be experiencing.

Reduce Inflammation

Red light therapy is an incredible solution for combating inflammation, which can be a major struggle with peripheral neuropathy. When you use red light therapy, it sets off a chain reaction in your cells, reducing oxidative stress and pro-inflammatory cytokines [8].

In turn, these anti-inflammatory effects can help to fight the uncomfortable swelling and pain you may be experiencing.

Generally, this process is prompted by a change in the mitochondria (more specially, on cytochrome c oxidase). After absorbing red/NIR wavelengths, your mitochondria begin to generate additional adenosine triphosphate (ATP), i.e. the energy of your cells.

Once this happens, the heightened energy production boosts levels of anti-inflammatory substances within your cells.

This helps to ease inflammation and can act as a preventative measure, which helps to reduce the risk of further nerve damage. Because inflammation significantly adds to neuropathy pain and dysfunction, red light therapy may be a valuable, non-invasive strategy for managing your symptoms.

Patient with foot neuropathy at doctor's office

Stimulate Schwann Cell & Fibroblast Production

Not only is red light therapy great for managing your symptoms, but it can also boost your nerve health by stimulating the production of Schwann cells and fibroblasts.

In a study published in 2015 in the Journal of Lasers in Medical Science, this idea was solidified as proof of the benefits of red light for neuropathy pain relief. In fact, the study states that red light has the ability to increase Schwann cells in myelinated axons and neurons, which shows its potential in aiding nerve regeneration [9].

Using the same example as before, you can think of nerves as intricate electrical wires. In this example, you can also imagine Schwann cells as insulators for these wires.

Red light therapy then acts as a catalyst, which supports the production of Schwann cells, making sure there’s an optimal amount of insulation and support for your nerve fibers. At the same time, light therapy stimulates fibroblasts, which contribute to the integrity of the tissue surrounding your nerves.

When it comes to peripheral neuropathy, using red light therapy not only helps to regenerate damaged nerves, but it creates a more supportive environment to aid them in their recovery and, ultimately, their functioning.

Neuron structure and myelin sheath formation illustration

How To Use Red Light Therapy For Neuropathy

So, how can you use LLLT at home for effective results? There are several ways to use it to your advantage, but you may want to follow these steps to ensure that you’re using it correctly:

  1. Pick the right red light therapy device: Be sure to choose a device with high-output LED bulbs that use both red and near-infrared light for more comprehensive benefits. Ideally, you’ll also want to look for medical-grade and FDA-cleared devices to make sure your therapy is successful.
  2. Treatment period: You’re going to want to tweak the length of the treatment to the severity of your neuropathy. Typically, you’ll use it for at least a few months on a regular basis. Sessions usually last from 10 to 20 minutes and should be done around three to five days a week.
  3. Consistency: Light therapies need to be used consistently, which means that your treatment will be ongoing (for at least a little while). You’ll also want to keep up with your treatments since missing sessions can lessen the impact it has on your pain and potentially cause a relapse, which can be frustrating and uncomfortable.

FAQs

Here are some frequently asked questions about red light therapy and neuropathy.

Does Using Red Light Therapy For Foot Neuropathy Work?

Red light therapy can definitely be used for foot neuropathy. Because it can stimulate the release of nitric oxide and enhance the blood flow in your feet, it can help to lessen the amount of inflammation you’re dealing with.

This is one of the most common causes of neuropathy pain in your feet and can make it even more difficult to walk or manage everyday activities. So, by using LLLT, you’re removing or easing the root of the issue, which is swollen (and incredibly painful) feet.

Foot receiving red light therapy for neuropathy treatment

Can Red Light Therapy Treat Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy?

Diabetic peripheral neuropathy (DPN) is a type of nerve damage that usually appears in people with diabetes. Over time, high blood sugar levels can damage the nerve fibers throughout the body. This is particularly true for nerves in your extremities, like your hands and feet.

Diabetic neuropathy can sometimes lead to uncomfortable symptoms like pain, numbness, tingling, and even weakness in the affected areas. Luckily, LLLT can help provide nerve pain relief in the same way it does for foot neuropathy. It can also help to start building the nerves back up.

Can You Use Red Light Therapy For Pinched Nerves?

Red light therapy may be able to help with pinched nerves, thanks to its anti-inflammatory and regenerative effects. Although studies on this phenomenon are limited, the basic advantages of LLLT support the feasibility of this working for common issues like pinched or painful nerves.

Additionally, the increased blood flow and enhanced function of the cells may help to alleviate symptoms you may have from a pinched nerve. Just remember that your response to this therapy is dependent on how your body reacts.

Final Thoughts

Red light therapy is perhaps one of the better emerging treatments for managing neuropathic symptoms and has plenty of evidence to back up its benefits.

From pain relief and reduced inflammation to nerve regeneration and the production of cells within the body, there’s no reason not to use this low-level light therapy for cases of neuropathy pain.

Want to know more about the benefits of red light therapy? Then you should check out our (evidence-based) list of the top red light therapy benefits.

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5505738/
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1011134421000919 
  3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1011134411002454
  4. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1011134403000538
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8820717/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24634001/
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20358337/
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5523874/
  9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26415928/
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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