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Red LED Light Therapy for Sports Injuries

author image Jim Orrill
Since 2006 Jim Orrill has produced reviews and essays on popular culture for publications including Lemurvision and "Sexis." Based in Western North Carolina, Orrill graduated cum laude from the University of North Carolina with a bachelor's degree in office systems.
Red LED Light Therapy for Sports Injuries
A doctor uses light therapy tool on a patient's injured shoulder. Photo Credit: maria_esau/iStock/Getty Images

Near-infrared LED light offers athletes noninvasive treatment for soft tissue injuries, providing recovery and pain relief. Athletes or non-competitive sportsman who suffer injuries to their shoulders, back, legs and other areas may benefit from light therapy. NASA conducted research throughout the 2000s indicating that the red light stimulated energy production within cells, effectively providing enough fuel to boost tissue regeneration and accelerate the healing process. LED therapeutic equipment manufacturer Med X notes that only a medical doctor can provide LED therapy or issue a referral, so consult your physician if you think this treatment is appropriate for you.

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The Beam

Unlike the light within a laser, an LED's red light is noncoherent. If you were to draw the waves comprising the red light, each would have a slightly different waveform, with each wave reaching its peak and trough at slightly different places. With coherent laser light, whose waveforms are all symmetrical. This noncoherent light spreads out over a greater surface area than the more focused laser light, allowing a physician to treat a larger injured area than he could with a laser. Red light has a particularly short wavelength, meaning that each individual wave is extremely close to the waves in front of and behind it. The shorter the light's wavelength, the deeper the light can penetrate into the skin, making the short-wavelength red light ideal for using in therapy.

Stimulating Energy Production in Cells

Associate professor of Clinical Lab Sciences Janis Eells and Dr. Harry Whelan conducted research indicating that near-infrared light emitted from an LED diode acts as a catalyst on cytochrome oxidase, an enzyme that sends a signal to the mitochondria, structures within a cell that produce adenosine triphosphate. ATP provides the fuel each cell needs to power its biological processes, including regeneration and healing. As the red light penetrates the skin, continuously reaching the light-sensitive cytochrome oxidase within the body's cells, ATP production increases for the duration of the treatment, accelerating the recovery of injured tissue.

Repairing Injured Tissue

Once the red LED light has increased the cell's energy production, each cell within the treated area begins producing new cells to replace the cells of the injured tissue. In his paper Mechanisms of Low Level Light Therapy, author Michael R. Hamblin reported that once ATP production increases, so does a cell's production of fibroblasts. These cells provide the building blocks of the body's connective tissue, producing collagen and other soft tissues and making increased fibroblast creation particularly helpful in treating sports injuries involving torn tendons or ligaments.


Med X notes that patients undergoing steroid therapy or currently using anti-inflammatory medication should not undergo LED light therapy. Inflammation is the body's natural response to injury, helping injured cells stave off infection and begin the process of healing, though unchecked inflammation becomes detrimental to the patient. Anti-inflammatory medications cancel out the accelerated cell activity that LED light triggers, negating any therapeutic benefits of the therapy. Med X also indicates that doctors shouldn't use LED light treatments for eye injuries, on any wound or injury over a pregnant woman's uterus, and over any skin growths that may be cancerous.

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