As the beneficial effects of light-emitting diode (LED) therapy are becoming more validated and the technology itself more popular, LED light systems are suddenly appearing in clinics and medical practices around the globe.
Understanding exactly what this widespread technological invasion is—how LED light therapy promotes healing and how it can benefit your practice—is becoming increasingly more important in today’s medical marketplace.
Chiropractors lead the way
LED light therapy is not new to the medical industry and certainly not new to doctors of chiropractic.
Studied for decades, the use of low level light therapy (LLLT)—both LED and laser—has been making its way into the medical mainstream in the U.S. since the 1990s. And chiropractors have taken the lead in the clinical use of LED light therapy and are advancing the use of this technology for new applications.
This is no surprise to industry professionals and medical providers, because this technology is a perfect pairing to what chiropractors advocate and bring to the medical community: healthy, drug-free healing and pain management options that are highly efficacious. Compared to the high cost and side-effect spectrum of many pharmaceutical drugs, LED light therapy can be a cost effective alternative to drugs and surgery.
LED light therapy has the ability to increase blood flow and lymphatic circulation, decrease pain, and stimulate many cellular processes that accelerate healing. Plus it has a high level of safety, no known negative side effects, is easy to administer, and is non-invasive.
Because LED light therapy can provide pain relief, wound healing, and address neuropathy discomfort and a variety of musculoskeletal issues, it is a mainstay in many clinics. Some patients also purchase light therapy systems from their chiropractors for in-home use between office visits for long-term therapy needs such as chronic pain and neuropathy.
It is also an attractive option for new chiropractors just getting started, because it can bring substantial benefits to their patients while offering a fast ROI.
How it works
LEDs deliver wavelengths of inco- herent (diffused) light to the body. LEDs are similar to laser diodes, but their light spreads out, unlike the highly focused beam of coherent light that emits from a laser. This more diffused light makes administration exceptionally safe.
This therapy is also known as photobiomodulation—meaning that light can produce cellular change in the body. Photons of light stimulate the release of nitric oxide, which
is the body’s natural vasodilator, greatly increasing circulation in the local treatment area. Blood flow is increased to nerves and other tissues, improving tissue oxygenation that stimulates healing. This boost persists for several hours after a therapy session.
Research indicates that the benefits of LED light therapy include
- Increased circulation
- Decreased inflammation
- Increased ATP production
- Collagen production
- Accelerated exercise recovery time
- Increased relaxation
- Decreased stress
LEDs have low power requirements and high efficiency with minimal heat production. Power levels are measured in mw/cm2 (milliwatts per centimeter squared). And LED life- times are rated up to 100,000 hours and can last for decades.
The most common device wave- lengths are the following:
- Near-infrared: Many LED therapy devices use the 800 nanometer (nm) range; however, infrared includes a much wider spectrum with deep penetration up to 100 mm.
- Red: 630 to 700 nm, with penetration up to 10 mm.
- Blue: 405 to 470 nm, with penetration up to 3 mm (beneficial for skin and wound healing).
- Pulsed frequency(s) or continuous wave devices provide timed sequences of light turning on and off during application, which is thought to accelerate change in the tissues.
- Continuous wave devices are always on; no frequency is added to the light.
Applications for use
Light therapy is commonly used in the treatment of acute and chronic joint pain in the neck, back, leg, shoulder, wrist, knee and ankle. It can be helpful for arthritis pain, bruises, carpal tunnel syndrome, and musculoskeletal conditions. It is also used to treat skin conditions such as pressure ulcers, wound healing and scar tissue reduction.
Even NASA has good things to say about light therapy. NASA issued a news release in December 2000, which stated that doctors at Navy Special Warfare Command centers in Norfolk, Virginia, and San Diego reported a 40 percent improvement in patients who had musculoskeletal training injuries treated with light-emitting diodes.1
There are distinct advantages to using LED therapy devices in your clinical practice. For example: Patients can be left unattended during therapy, maximizing staff resources. Large surface areas can be covered by the LED pad or panel, delivering therapeutic photons broadly and safely to the targeted area of the body. And systems are generally portable and user friendly.
Moreover, LED light therapy can help you enter niche markets, such as peripheral neuropathy and brain injuries. These are areas where LED light therapy is appearing to be more effective than pharmaceutical approaches.
An increasing number of scientific studies are showing expanded indi- cations for LED light therapy as a treatment for neurologic conditions, especially brain injuries and degeneration. The advanced research being done by Michael Hamblin, PhD, and his group, and also by Margaret A. Naeser, PhD, at Boston University is demonstrating that LED light therapy can have a positive effect on the brain. Naeser’s 2017 study with veterans showed significant improvement after 12 weeks of transcranial photobiomodulation.
Increased function, better sleep, fewer angry outbursts, and less anxiety and wandering were reported with no negative side effects.2
Preliminary brain studies being conducted by other groups using transcranial LED light therapy are showing impressively improved brain blood flow verified by before and after single-photon emission computerized tomography (SPECT) brain scans. The impact of these brain studies has implications for patients presenting with such conditions as traumatic brain injury (TBI), PTSD, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, concussions, strokes and depression.
Nearly all neurological disorders have one thing in common: diminished blood flow. And increased circulation and blood flow is precisely what LED light therapy promotes.
More than 3 million new cases of peripheral neuropathy are diagnosed each year in the U.S. alone. LED light therapy has shown significant results in relieving the discomfort of this condition and improving sensation as evidenced by a number of studies.3,4
Adding LED light therapy systems can help you offer neuropathy therapy as a substantial part of your practice.
LED light therapy devices have received FDA clearances that include temporarily increasing local circulation; and the temporary relief of pain, stiffness and muscle spasms. Many practitioners are hopeful that the FDA will keep expanding clearances for this cutting-edge healing technology.
Selecting the right system
Some systems are low quality, non-FDA-cleared imports, and others have lower output or limited therapeutic applications due to their design. Making an intelligent buying decision requires care and due diligence to be sure you have bought the best available equipment for your clinic and your patients.
To be effective, an LED light therapy system must have the correct wavelength(s); deliver appropriate milliwatt output; and deliver adequate energy density. Before making a purchase, ask if the system is medical-grade, FDA-cleared with a 510K classification number, and if there is a warranty and repair center.
You’ll want a system that’s flexible and allows for a variety of therapeutic applications. As the saying goes, you get what you pay for. Brands of systems differ greatly in their quality of manufacturing, lifespan, and effectiveness.
David Christenson is a healthcare consultant and the founder of Neurocare Systems, bringing state-of-the- art medical grade LED light therapy equipment to medical practices. He has also formulated his own product line of natural adaptogenic and neurological support formulations. He can be contacted at 800-900-4045 or through neurocaresystems.com.
1 NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center. “NASA Space Technology Shines Light On Healing.” ScienceDaily. http://www.sciencedaily.com/ releases/2000/12/001219195848.htm. Published Dec. 2000. Accessed Jan. 2018.
2 Salmarche AE, Naeser MA, Ho KF, Hamblin MR, Lim L. Significant Improvement in Cognition in Mild to Moderately Severe Dementia Cases Treated with Transcranial Plus Intranasal Photobiomodulation:
Case Series Report. Photomed Laser Surg. 2017;5(8):432-441.
3 Fallah A, Mirzaei A, Gutknecht N, Demneh AS. Clinical effectiveness of low-level
laser treatment on peripheral somatosen- sory neuropathy. Lasers Med Sci. 2017 Apr;32(3):721-728.
4 Mandelbaum-Livnat MM, Almog M, Nissan M, Loeb E, Shapira Y, Rochkind
5 Potobiomodulation Triple Treatment in Peripheral Nerve Injury: Nerve and Muscle Response. Photomed Laser Surg. 2016;34(12):638-645.