Red Light Therapy for Muscles Recovery: How It Speeds Up the Healing Process.

Red light and Near-Infrared Therapy for Muscles

Are you looking for a way to boost your athletic performance and see better gains in your training? Are you looking for a way to reduce muscle soreness? Well, have you heard about the potential benefits of using red light therapy for muscles?

Limited studies have shown promising results in terms of improved hypertrophy, increased strength, reduced muscle soreness, and even injury recovery with the use of appropriate light therapy. Whether you are an elite athlete wanting to improve sports performance or just starting out, light therapy could potentially aid your progress and give you that extra edge in achieving your fitness goals as well as help with sports injuries. In this blog post, we will dive into the science behind muscle light therapy and what you need to know before trying it out for yourself.

How does red light therapy help your muscles?

Red light therapy for muscles works by targeting the mitochondria in our cells, which are responsible for energy production. Muscles, in particular, have a high demand for cellular energy, and therefore have a high concentration of mitochondria. Red light therapy can help to improve mitochondrial function and increase energy production, which can lead to reduced inflammation and faster healing. Research has shown that red light therapy for muscle can be effective for reducing  pain and soreness, improving muscle function, and even increasing muscle size and strength when used in conjunction with exercise.

The application of light therapy

The application of light therapy is well understood as it affects almost all cells in the body that have mitochondria. Mitochondria are responsible for energy production and light therapy works by enhancing the process of respiration through the activation of Cytochrome C Oxidase and Nitric Oxide. This process leads to an increase in CO2 and ATP production, providing the body with more energy. This mechanism can be applied to most cells in the body, except for red blood cells which lack mitochondria.

The connection between muscles and energy

Muscle cells require a high amount of energy to function, which is why they have a high concentration of mitochondria. This applies to all types of muscle tissue, including skeletal muscle, cardiac muscle, and smooth muscle tissue. The density of mitochondria in muscle tissue varies between species and parts of the body, but the importance of energy production remains the same. Therefore, researchers studying red light therapy for muscles are interested in targeting muscle tissue specifically.

How light improve the growth and repair of muscle stem cells?

Myosatellite cells, a type of muscle stem cell responsible for growth and repair, are a potential focus of light therapy. These cells become active in response to strain, such as exercise or injury of muscles or damaged tissue, which could be enhanced by light therapy. Similar to stem cells in other parts of the body, satellite cells are the predecessors of normal muscle cells. They are usually inactive but become fully functional in response to injury or exercise trauma. Recent studies suggest that the energy produced by mitochondria is the primary factor in determining the fate, programming, and speed of stem cells. Because Red light therapy for muscles aims to improve mitochondrial function, it may be a promising way to enhance muscle growth and repair through stem cells.

Using Near infrared light for reducing Inflammation

Inflammation is a common characteristic linked to muscle stress or damage. There is a belief among certain experts that the use of light therapy in a proper manner may aid in reducing the level of inflammation. This can be achieved by increasing the levels of CO2 which will then obstruct the production of inflammatory cytokines and prostaglandins, leading to more effective repair and no scarring or fibrosis.

Benefits of Red Light therapy for Muscles 

Light therapy has been investigated for its potential advantages in enhancing muscle performance among various groups of individuals, including athletes, those with muscle-related ailments, bodybuilders, and fitness enthusiasts. The efficacy of light therapy on muscle function has been studied extensively in both human and animal subjects, such as horses and dogs engaged in competitive sports or other activities. Some of the observed benefits of light therapy on muscles are listed below:

Hypertrophy, Strength, DOMS/soreness & Injury/strain recovery

Hypertrophy (muscle building through exercise)

Gaining muscle mass as a result of exercise is known as hypertrophy and studies have been conducted using light therapy in conjunction with exercise. Regarding muscle tissue, hypertrophy is a mechanism that assists the tissue in producing greater force with less fatigue. The lasting enhancement of muscle size is a desirable outcome for bodybuilders and those striving to enhance their physical appearance.

Some limited studies suggest that incorporating near-infrared light therapy before weight training could enhance muscle size gains and hypertrophy compared to not using any light therapy. In these studies, a group of untrained individuals experienced twice the amount of muscle size gains over an 8-week period when they performed weight training exercises with light therapy compared to those who did not use any light therapy. This could potentially benefit personal trainers, elite athletes training independently, and the general public, especially those who have been sedentary for a prolonged period. Light therapy may assist with initial progress and aid in long-term progress. 

Strength – get stronger with light therapy?

As mentioned earlier, it is possible red light therapy for muscles interact with both regular muscle cells and Myosatellite cells, which could lead to improved energy production and increased blood flow. This may result in an immediate boost in strength and endurance through the regular muscle cells, and also a long-term improvement through the myosatellite cells, especially when combined with exercise and light therapy.

Most of the research in this field focuses on analysing peak torque, which is the highest amount of force produced during a particular motion, and its fluctuations with time. In these investigations, the combination of light therapy and exercise has been proven to enhance strength gains more effectively than exercise alone, partly due to hypertrophy. The improvements in strength have been considerable in numerous studies, to the extent that sports regulatory organisations are contemplating whether light therapy should be allowed.

Reduce DOMS/soreness with light therapy?

Multiple studies into the use of muscle light therapy demonstrate the possibility of decreasing and expediting the recovery of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which is the unpleasant but sometimes rewarding sensation experienced in muscles following an intense workout. On a cellular level, DOMS is believed to stem from microtrauma to muscle fibers and is distinguished by a swift inflow of calcium into the cell that obstructs respiration, among other reactions. The calcium that enters the muscle cells can cause harm and inflammation, resulting in the sensation of pain or soreness.

The intensity of muscle discomfort following physical activity, known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), will be assessed using the visual analogue scale (VAS) in individuals who have received either a placebo treatment or 850nm LED light therapy after exercise.

To continue with the recovery process, the cell requires ATP to move calcium out of it. The theory behind light therapy suggests that it may accelerate ATP production and CO2 release, which can reduce inflammation, regenerate and hasten muscle recovery. Consequently, if this hypothesis is true, it may reduce the intensity of DOMS and shorten the time needed for complete recovery.

Improve injury/strain recovery with light?

Several studies suggest that proper use of light may have positive impacts on the healing process following an injury. One possible hazard of muscle injuries is the emergence of fibrosis or scarring. Collagen production spikes due to inflammation, resulting in the formation of scars inside the muscles similar to how we get scars on our skin as a result of harm. Light therapy may be beneficial in preventing such scarring. The formation of scar tissue in muscles permanently affects their function and mechanical properties, resulting in reduced mobility/strength, long-term pain, and potentially ending an athlete’s career or even causing disability in severe cases. It is crucial to resolve the injury as soon as possible with minimal inflammation. Light therapy may be effective in this regard for a variety of reasons, including its ability to reduce the acute inflammatory response and support the key processes of muscle recovery on a cellular level. Moreover, some studies have demonstrated that light therapy’s healing effects are not only limited to muscle injuries but also extend to wounds on other parts of the body such as the skin, as well as brain trauma and broken bones.

Ideal light for muscle light therapy
  • Infrared vs red light – for muscles near-infrared light is better.

One of the main obstacles to effective muscle light therapy is the difficulty of getting the light to penetrate deeply into the muscles. The majority of light is absorbed by the skin, making it challenging to treat deeper tissues. However, research has shown that infrared light therapy wavelengths between 700-900nm are the most effective at penetrating the skin and reaching deeper tissue. Even the near-infrared over 900nm is not really suitable, since it is progressively blocked by water in skin cells. This makes near-infrared light the most commonly used wavelength range for muscle treatment studies. Other forms of infrared light, such as mid-infrared or far-infrared heat, are not suitable. Red light at 660-670nm is also used in studies, but requires a higher dosage compared to infrared light.

  • Higher power density / high dose required

Despite using near-infrared light that penetrates deeply at a wavelength of 740-830nm, most of the energy is still absorbed by the skin and first layers of tissue, although to a lesser extent than other wavelengths. Therefore, it is important to ensure that the light device used has the appropriate wavelength and power. Low light intensity, even at the ideal wavelength, will not produce significant results. For effective muscle depth penetration in humans, a light strength of less than 50mW/cm² is too weak, while 200mW/cm² or more is commonly used in studies due to its ability to provide sufficient energy penetration within a reasonable time frame. Doses of 100J/cm² or more, up to 700J/cm², are studied for their ability to penetrate deeper muscles with sufficient energy over time.

  • Before or after exercise?

After purchasing your light device, one such as the emit LEDS belt with appropriate wavelengths and sufficient power, it is necessary to determine the optimal timing for treatment. Current research reveals that applying light therapy before exercise yields better outcomes, which is supported by various literature reviews and meta-analyses. This approach could potentially enhance not only exercise performance, such as strength, speed, and endurance, but also muscle recovery following exercise. Additionally, it seems reasonable to assume that this method could reduce the likelihood of injury. Although using light after exercise is also potentially effective for recovery and is still superior to using no light at all, even if implemented several hours after exercise. It could be that using light both before and after exercise on the target muscles is the most effective method, although this technique has yet to be thoroughly compared to other protocols.

If you’re interested in exploring the benefits of red light and near-infrared light therapy for your furry friend, check out our article on Red Light and Near Infrared Light Therapy for Pets.

Red Light Therapy for Muscles Recovery: How It Speeds Up the Healing Process.

From Founder

Muscle pains and spasms can be extremely painful, check out red light therapy for muscles and see if it can help. It can act as an added boost at the gym.
Eugene Emmanuel

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