After you hit the age of 30 or 40, it may seem like you (or your friends) start complaining more about aches and pains. For many people, back pain is responsible for a large portion of these complaints.
Whether you have chronic back pain, feel an occasional “twinge,” or become immobilized after “throwing your back out,” you may be wondering whether light therapy can help you.
Let’s examine the current research on light therapy for back pain. We’ll also look at a few products that treat back pain using light therapy.
What Is Back Pain?
Back pain is one of the most common musculoskeletal complaints doctors encounter. It can range from chronic, constant pain to sudden, acute pain. But what causes back pain?
Causes of Back Pain
Several of the more common causes of back pain include:
- Ruptured or bulging disks.
- Muscle or ligament strain.
- Weakness of the core abdominal muscles.
- Improper lifting of heavy objects.
- Repeated use of the same back muscles.
Types of Back Pain
Healthcare workers classify back pain into three main categories:
Axial back pain occurs in just one spot in the back. For example, when you “pull a muscle” or damage a disk, the pain is usually localized to where the injury occurred.
Radicular back pain “radiates” out from its source. This type of back pain occurs along the spinal nerve as it leaves the spinal canal, and it’s usually due to compression of the spinal nerve. This can be caused by a herniated disk or spinal stenosis. If compression is in the lower back, pain may travel down the leg, such as with sciatica.
Referred back pain doesn’t appear in the same spot as the source of the back pain. Instead, it can pop up in multiple areas and doesn’t always occur in the same place. Your back may ache in one spot one day, and in your hips the next. The intensity of your pain may vary from day to day. Degenerative diseases like degenerative disk disease (DDD) and osteoporosis may cause referred pain.
What Is Light Therapy?
Light therapy is a medical treatment that shines specific wavelengths of light on the body for beneficial effects. Light therapy isolates full-spectrum, red, infrared, green, or blue wavelengths of light to shine onto the body. Light therapy can be performed at home or in a medical setting such as a physician’s office or medical spa.
Light therapy, also called phototherapy, has been successfully used for applications like improving sleep quality, reducing inflammation, and treating seasonal affective disorder (SAD). In recent years, specific products have been developed to address a wide array of more localized concerns, such as canker sores, stretch marks, and cellulite.
Can Light Therapy Help With Back Pain?
With more media attention on the opioid epidemic, physicians are increasingly recommending patients try alternative therapies — such as yoga, chiropractic, and light therapy — rather than medications for back pain.
Light therapy has shown promise in helping to promote healing, reduce inflammation, stimulate nerve pathways, improve blood flow, and decrease healing time. Additionally, light therapy is being used as an effective way to reduce pain in a wide variety of injuries and conditions.
Studies on Light Therapy for Back Pain
Most available studies on light therapy for back pain look specifically at low back pain, but research is ongoing.
A meta-analysis of studies on nonspecific chronic low back pain showed significantly reduced back pain scores in light therapy patients compared with placebo patients.
Another study examined participants with low back pain scores of between 3 and 10 on a scale of 0–10. The treatment group received laser light treatments, while the control group received sham laser treatments. Both groups were prescribed naproxen as a pain reliever as well.
Both groups experienced significant improvement in back pain, but the light therapy group’s reduction in pain persisted for many months, even after discontinuing treatment. No significant side effects were noted.
In another small study, participants received treatment (or placebo) from a waistband that produced infrared energy. Patients in the treatment group reported significantly reduced pain versus the placebo group here as well.
Available Light Therapy Products for Back Pain
With advances in medicine and technology, light therapy has become more accessible to the average person. Devices intended for home use are available at a variety of price points.
Here are just a few of the available light therapy products for back pain.
Light Therapy Belt
LifePro Fitness offers their AllevaRed Light Therapy Belt with red and near-infrared (NIR) LED settings. Its hands-free design allows you to walk around while you receive all the light therapy benefits. The AllevaRed is lightweight and can charge via adaptor or USB port, making it very travel-friendly.
Full Body Light Therapy Panel
At over $1,500, the Joovv Solo 3.0 is on the expensive side of home devices. The Solo 3.0 consists of an LED panel with red and NIR lights. Because of its size, the panel’s light can reach much more of your body at a time.
Unlike its less-expensive competitors, Joovv models come with additional features to enhance your light therapy experience, such as a recovery mode and ambient (sleep) mode. It can be mounted on a door or wall, or used with a boot floor stand.
Handheld Light Therapy Device
The Wide Coverage Infrared Pain Reliever uses infrared and red light therapy to reduce pain and inflammation wherever you hold it on your body. It can also help to loosen stiff muscles and stimulate circulation. Its easy-to-use design is compact and travels well.
Consult With Your Doctor About Light Therapy for Back Pain
Light therapy has been touted in some places as a replacement for pain medication and steroid shots. But it’s important to speak to your doctor before stopping any treatment plan that has already been prescribed for you.
If you experience positive effects from light therapy for your back pain, speak with your healthcare provider about whether changing your treatment protocol would be beneficial for your specific situation.