Massage therapist Skaidre Bowman had a big problem: Her back would “lock up,” and no type of therapy she tried would help with the pain and discomfort.
Then a friend suggested she try LED light therapy, and within 10 minutes she felt relief.
Since then, she has implemented LED light therapy into her sessions with clients in her West Florida practice. She finds it augments the benefits of her hands-on care.
“LED therapy gets much deeper, reaching areas that a massage therapist cannot get into, and improves the healing process,” Bowman said. “The massage in conjunction with the light therapy greatly increases repair and regeneration of tissue and has [a] positive effect on the area of discomfort.”
LED light therapy is gentle, relaxing and soothing. No matter what types of massage you offer, incorporating LED light therapy into your practice can help your clients. LED light therapy is regarded as noninvasive, painless, safe, effective, easy to administer and has no known negative side effects, according to several research studies.
In fact, research conducted over the last several decades indicates that LED light therapy can benefit virtually various external parts of the physical body, including neck1 and back2 pain.
Because LED light therapy has been found to be beneficial for so many musculoskeletal issues, it is earning a highly regarded place in a growing number of physical therapy and chiropractic clinics. Massage therapists are using LED light therapy as well; however, as with any tool or equipment, you should check with your state or local board of massage to make sure use of this therapy is included in your legal scope of practice.
Both LED light therapy and massage therapy relieve stress, anxiety and muscle tension, and increase lymphatic flow and blood circulation. Both modalities induce the activation of the body’s own natural healing processes to help reduce pain. Together, they create a potent therapy to address client pain and tension.
According to Len Saputo,MD, “There’s hardly a kind of pain that doesn’t respond to infra-red light therapy.”3
Massage therapy and LED light therapy are great complements, and when used in conjunction, can be a highly effective team in addressing pain.
LED Light Therapy and Pain Relief
Photobiomodulation (PBM) is the use of light to accelerate therapeutic chemical processes in the cells of the human body that support the body’s innate healing and pain relief processes.
“Whenever an infra-red light ray hits a blood vessel wall, it causes an instant release of a compound called nitric oxide,” explains Saputo. “And nitric oxide causes instantaneous pop-open of a blood vessel. So, suddenly, you have a change in circulation that is dramatic … It also causes a reduction in inflammation that happens very quickly, as well.
“It increases lymphatic drainage; it increases the activity of white cells so they clean up debris faster; and it has an amazing effect on nerves. It causes nerve fibers that are pain fibers to calm down and not cause so much pain.”4
As circulation increases in the local treatment area it allows for greater nutrient-rich blood flow to nerves, muscles, joints and other tissues, which improves tissue oxygenation and reduces inflammation—which reduces pain and accelerates the body’s natural healing processes.
In addition, adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production is also stimulated, which increases energy within the cells.
“When we put light of the right wavelength and intensity into people for the right amount of time, the right intervals … this light basically tips the balance in favor of more ATP and less oxidative stress,” said James Carroll, founder and CEO at THOR Photomedicine Ltd. and a recognized authority on PBM.
“… [u]nder those circumstances,” Carroll continued, “people get better more quickly.”5
The healing boost generated by PBM continues for several hours in the body after the light therapy session has ended.
An LED light therapy system usually composes two components: light pads or panels containing light-emitting diodes and an electronic controller. The LED light therapy pads are made of neoprene or other flexible material and contain either a single wavelength or a polychromatic combination of light.
The most common combination for pain relief is red and near infra-red light-emitting diodes for deeper penetration. Additional wavelengths (colors) are possible for other uses.
Pads vary in size and shape. There are large-or-small square or rectangular pads for hips, back, shoulders and other body applications. Since neoprene light pads are very flexible, the same pad can be wrapped around a hand to address carpal tunnel syndrome, around an arm to address tennis elbow, or around an ankle to address a sprain.
Controllers vary in the number of ports they offer, which determines the number of light pads that can be powered on at one time to support the body’s healing.
Among the frequencies often used on the controllers are the seven Nogier frequencies, as developed by French physician Paul Nogier (1908–1996) in the 1970s, which are natural to the body. Programs of multiple frequencies, such as the Solfeggio frequencies, a scale first used in Medieval times and extrapolated to electro-magnetic sound frequencies by American physician Joseph Puleo in the 1970s, may also be included.
Many light therapy systems use pulsed frequency, adding another dimension to the therapy.
A Typical Session
A typical LED light therapy session may last about 20 minutes, although longer or shorter sessions can be administered depending upon the discretion of the therapist. Children usually receive shorter sessions.
The client sits or reclines while pads, panels or other devices containing diodes of near infrared, red or blue light are strategically placed directly on or above the skin wherever pain relief is needed. All the client needs to do is relax and be comfortable.
Once the pads or panels are in place and the controller is turned on, a gentle heat can be felt as the diodes shine brightly, emitting photons of light that penetrate beneath the skin and are absorbed within the tissue cells. (Near infra-red light is outside the visible light spectrum.)
Referencing studies done by NASA, Saputostated, “About 60 percent of the light goes four inches deep, and another 40 percent goes down to about 10 inches.”6
These photons cause nitric oxide to be released by the cells, increasing blood circulation and decreasing inflammation. As this happens, pain decreases, and the body launches into self-healing mode.
Massage therapist Bowman said she usually begins the LED light therapy portion of a session during the middle of a massage.
“I can be massaging one part of the body and have lights working on the other,” she explained. “You know, you always implement, combine and make it work for you and your client. You want to do the therapy and have your client comfortable and happy, so that it feels like the massage and light therapy complement each other and flow together.”
Incorporating LED light therapy into your massage session before the massage begins may be most beneficial. Light therapy pads can be placed directly on the body where needed. The LED light therapy pads will do the work of warming up skin tissue, jumpstarting the increase in circulation required to decrease inflammation and begin the pain-relief process.
Then the body will become less tense and stiff, more relaxed and flexible, and easier to massage, thereby saving you some hard work or reducing the intensity and pressure of your hand work that otherwise may have been needed to achieve the same results.
Applying pads to the areas of greatest need at the beginning of the session could be an effective strategy. Then the light therapy pads could be moved around the body as the massage session progresses.
A second way to incorporate LED light therapy is to start with a full 20-minute light session and then proceed to the massage. Pads may be sealed in disposable plastic bags as a barrier to prevent massage oil stains and soiling, keeping them clean and sanitary.
A Win-Win for You and Your Clients
Incorporating LED light therapy into your massage therapy practice could be a win-win for both your practice and your clients.
Getting clients’ circulation going faster with LED light therapy before a massage could quicken their pain relief, and also deliver cellular enhancements that will potentially amplify overall results.
A professional, medical-grade light therapy system can also be used for self-treatment. You can utilize and enjoy LED light therapy equipment to keep your hands, wrists, arms, elbows, shoulders and back feeling good.
Several national polls have reported that most massage therapists will sustain some type of pain or injury during their career, so having an LED light therapy system at your disposal to help ease the pain and quicken the healing of repetitive stress injuries, cumulative trauma disorders or overuse syndromes from massage work would be extremely beneficial.
1. Chow, RT, et al., “Efficacy of low-level laser therapy in the management of neck pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised placebo or active-treatment controlled trials.” Lancet, 2009.
2. Glazov, G, Yelland, M, Emery, J, “Low-level laser therapy for chronic non-specific low back pain: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials.” Acupuncture in Medicine, 2016.
3. Saputo, L, Infrared light therapy, doctorsaputo.com, accessed July 12, 2017.
4. Saputo, L, Infrared light therapy, doctorsaputo.com, accessed July 12, 2017.
5. Mercola, J, Photobiomodulation shows great promise for athletes, chronic pain syndromes and more: interview with James Carroll, mercola.com, accessed Nov. 12, 2017 (transcript, p. 6).
6. Saputo, L, Infrared light therapy, doctorsaputo.com, accessed July 12, 2017.
About the Author:
David Christenson is a health care consultant and the founder and CEO of Neurocare Systems, bringing state-of-the-art, medical-grade LED light therapy equipment to medical practices. A lifelong advocate for pharmaceutical alternatives, Christenson has formulated numerous lines of award-winning advanced apoptogenic natural neurological supplements.