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What is Photobiomodulation Therapy & How It Works With LEDs

Photobiomodulation is more than a fancy buzzword—it’s a therapy that improves the lives of the people who use it. Keep reading to discover how photobiomodulation therapy works and its applications for wellness.

What is Photobiomodulation Therapy?

Photobiomodulation—it might be a mouthful to say, but it’s not as complicated as it sounds. The word can be broken into three parts: photo, bio, and modulation. Photo refers to light, bio means life, and modulation is another way to express change. Photobiomodulation, then, is the use of light to initiate a change in life.

More specifically, photobiomodulation refers to the use of red light, concentrated at certain wavelengths, that targets the chromophores in cellular mitochondria. Mitochondria are cellular organelles often called the “powerhouse of the cell” because of their role in energy production. These powerful little structures break down nutrients and turn them into energy, or adenosine triphosphate (ATP).

When mitochondria absorb concentrated red and near-infrared light, they produce more ATP, which boosts energy transportation within cells and causes increased cell proliferation. Cell proliferation is the process whereby cells divide and replace damaged or dead cells. In damaged tissue, photobiomodulation helps increase the body’s natural healing process.

What is an LED?

LED stands for “light emitting diode.” An LED is a semiconductor device that emits light when an electric current is passed through it. What makes LEDs different from other light bulbs is that they are solid-state devices, meaning they don’t use heated filaments, and therefore don’t rely on thermal radiation to produce light.

LEDs can also be set to specific wavelengths of light, making them ideal for light therapy. The color of light is determined by its wavelength, and LEDs produce different wavelengths of light depending on the distance between the energy bands in the semiconductor material. Different materials used as the semiconductor have different energy bands to produce different colors, but the precise wavelength can be tuned by altering the active region of the material. The semiconductor in TheraLight LEDs, for example, is gallium-aluminum-arsenide, but other semiconductors are gallium-phosphide, gallium-arsenide, and gallium-arsenide-phosphide.

Why LEDs for Photobiomodulation?

LEDs are used for photobiomodulation therapy because they can produce monochromatic light attuned to the specific wavelengths needed for absorption by the chromophores in the mitochondria.

LEDs are different from laser light, another method of photobiomodulation, because they provide a wider treatment area than a tight laser beam. Laser light is good for pinpointing specific areas or penetrating light energy deeper into the body. But LEDs offer a full-body approach to photobiomodulation that’s good for overall wellness and producing photochemical effects in the skin.

Safety Concerns with LED Light Beds & Panels

All types of photobiomodulation are relatively risk free, provided the sessions are directed by a trained technician with a registered medical light therapy device. When using an LED light bed or panel for photobiomodulation, it’s important to be aware of a few things:

  • Make sure the device is a medical device registered with the FDA for the use of red light photobiomodulation therapy
  • Wear the proper protective eye gear, such as goggles or glasses, provided by the facility
  • Do not exceed 15 minutes in a light bed in one session

What is Photobiomodulation Therapy used for?

Because PBMT increases cellular energy, it has a wide variety of applications. One of the most popular applications of PBMT is to reduce inflammation, but it’s also used in pain relief, skin care, and sports performance.

Reduce Inflammation

Inflammation has a lot of causes, and it’s actually a normal part of the body’s immune response. The problem is when inflammation is chronic or long-lasting, such as from oxidative stress or a disease like arthritis or tendonitis. Lasting inflammation can cause permanent damage. PBMT reduces inflammation through increased cellular energy and activity that promotes the transport of inflammatory mediators and repair of damaged tissue.

Pain Relief

PBMT decreases nerve sensitivity by decreasing levels the pain-eliciting chemical, bradykinin, and it has a pain-blocking effect on certain nerve fibers. PBMT also helps to reduce pain by normalizing ion channels and releasing endorphins and enkephalins from the brain and adrenal gland that reduces pain.

Skin Care

PBMT increases circulation and promotes the creation of collagen, elastin, and fibroblasts. These components are important materials that make up our skin and other connective tissues. Increased circulation combined with the production of these materials helps improve skin quality and elasticity, which helps fight the formation of wrinkles, speed up wound healing, and repair damage from scarring.

Sports Performance

PBMT is used in a few ways to help with sports performance. Increased circulation from PBMT helps achieve a better warmup. Additionally, increased production of ATP provides more energy for cells to spend, leading to lower muscle fatigue. Lastly, using PBMT after a workout helps prevent delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) by repairing the minor tissue damage caused during a workout that likely contributes to soreness.

Benefits of PBMT

PBMT is an alternative treatment to traditional methods for pain and inflammation because it activates the body’s natural healing cycle to repair damage. Traditional methods of pain relief such as over-the-counter or prescription medications only mask symptoms. For example, ibuprofen blocks the production and release of prostaglandin from damaged cells, which means the brain just doesn’t get as strong of a pain signal from the damaged part of the body.

PBMT has minimal side effects, while medications can cause more damage, especially when taken long-term. Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, is difficult for the liver to process, and prolonged use with high doses can cause liver damage. Most people who have a PBMT treatment don’t experience any adverse side effects. Some experience temporary lightheadedness from vasodilation, or widening of blood vessels that is a part of increased circulation.

PBMT is also a noninvasive treatment with no downtime. After a PBMT treatment, a person can go about their normal day. Some methods, like cold therapy, require multiple applications per day to be effective. PBMT is comfortable and isn’t exceptionally warm, and certainly doesn’t involve needles or harmful chemicals like some skin treatments. Sessions shouldn’t exceed 15 minutes, either, so you could have a PBMT session on your lunch break and go right back to work.

Are you a practitioner thinking about adding photobiomodulation therapy to your business? TheraLight offers two unique LED light beds to help your patients achieve their wellness goals. Click the link below to learn more.

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