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Red Light Therapy For Muscle Recovery 


What if I told you that the benefits of Red Light Therapy are so powerful that athletes in competitive sports may be banned for using it by sporting regulators?

There are hundreds of studies conducted that show that red light therapy has a positive influence on physical performance. This has led many pro athletes and trainers including sessions of red light therapy into their recovery routine.

Many hours of high-intensity workouts and endurance is an everyday routine for athletes.  Consequently, muscle soreness, fatigue, pain, and inflammation can be the result and impact their performance.  

Red light therapy not only improves physical performance but also aims to prevent the burn out phase that can result from intense training.  This non-invasive therapy can soothe aching muscles, aid recovery from sports injuries, and improve general wellness.  For this reason, RLT has gained much popularity amongst many athletes and trainers.

In todays article we'll look at clinical trials that show red light therapy prevents muscle soreness and increases the rate of muscle recovery. 

How Red Light Therapy Fuels Your Muscles


Red light therapy involves the delivery of a safe and concentrated dose of natural light, red and infrared wavelength, to your cells. Cells are stimulated and energy is produced. When your cells are working optimally, blood flow increases and stimulates cell regeneration. Red light therapy has been shown reduces muscle soreness by decreasing inflammation. It also very effective in promoting muscle growth, making it not only essential for recovery, but also beneficial for athletic performance.

Red and Infrared light encourage the production of antioxidants which reduces oxidative stress - therefore decreases fatigue. Antioxidants also promote the production of heat proteins – substances that prevent oxidative stress and early cell death. [1][2]

Various clinical trials conducted on the effect of red light therapy demonstrates an increase in blood circulation which improves oxygen and nutrient supply to the site of injury. Thus, the rate of healing is accelerated and toxic substances are eliminated in the process. [3].

Research Shows Red Light Therapy Prevents Muscle Soreness and Fatigue

There are numerous studies and clinical trials that demonstrate the prevention of muscle soreness and fatigue by red light therapy. Some of them are highlighted below:

✅ Less Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness
Pain and stiffness felt 1-3 days following participation in a workout or vigorous physical activity is termed delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS). A clinical trial investigating the effect of red light therapy and exercise draws the following conclusions:

Participants treated with red light therapy experienced a more significant reduction in pain compared to those in the control group.

The pain scores as assessed by the McGill Pain Questionnaires were significantly different in a 48-hour period.

In conclusion, red light therapy has a positive impact on symptoms relating to DOMS. [4]

A clinical trial conducted in 2014 shows that the application of red light therapy before any form of vigorous physical activity improves skeletal muscle performance, reduce biochemical markers associated with skeletal muscle injuries and the prevention of DOMS. [5] These findings are in line with those from a previous study which demonstrate that red light therapy application before exercises slows down the onset of muscle fatigue. [6]

✅ Less soreness & damage after intense workouts
A 2014 study conducted on healthy young adult males who had participated in “damaging eccentric exercises” shows that red light therapy before such activities prevents a significant loss in the range of motion and muscle strength, and reduces muscle soreness. [7].

✅ Postmenopausal women feel less soreness from exercise
Red light therapy is demonstrated to have a positive impact on muscle soreness across a wide variety of populations, including women in their postmenopausal years when applied in combination with exercises.

The findings of a 2014 clinical trial show that red light therapy not only improves the performance of the quadriceps muscles but also decreases the onset of peripheral fatigue in postmenopausal women. [8].

A combination of treadmill training and infrared-LED therapy has an increasing effect on muscle power and slows down the onset of leg fatigue in females in their postmenopausal ages. [9]

✅ Less running damage
 A 2012 clinical trial shows that red light therapy reduces the incidence of oxidative stress and muscle injury in runners. This is achieved by modifying the redox system. [10]

✅ Less Knee Muscle Fatigue
A 2018 study reports that the application of red light prior and following an exercise session results in lower incidences of muscle fatigue. [11] Findings from another study published in 2010 indicates that the application of red light therapy prior to an exercise prevents the buildup of muscle proteins in the blood serum. [12]

✅ Fighting Inflammation
There are many studies that report a reduction in inflammation on the application of red light therapy. [13][14][15]

This is supported by experiences shared by many red light therapy users. One of them is Jorge Cruise, a celebrity trainer who told us that he advises his clients to incorporate red light therapy into their daily workout routine. He notes that many clients are unable to take part in workouts due to inflammation, Furthermore, he admits red light therapy application allows clients to attend gym sessions regularly since pain is reduced.

Red light therapy leads to a lower level of creatine kinase which is an indicator of decreased incidence of muscle fatigue: Creatine Kinase is an enzymatic substance produced in large quantities following skeletal tissue injury. Hence, it is used as a biochemical marker when assessing the level of muscle damage. [16]

Many studies demonstrate a marked reduction in CK levels following the application of red light therapy. A recent systematic review published in the Clinical Journal of Medicine analyzes the effect of red light therapy on creatine kinase levels in blood serum following exercises. 14 studies were reviewed in this meta-analysis and the authors discovered that there was a decrease in CK levels after applying red light. [17]

Large Base of Clinical Research Shows Red Light Therapy Enhances Muscle Recovery

Many pro athletes and expert trainers who use red light therapy can attest to the positive effect of red light therapy on muscle recovery. Numerous studies assessing the healing and regenerating effects of red light therapy solidify the claim made by fitness experts and world-class athletes. A meta-analysis done in 2015 concludes that red light therapy improves muscle performance and increases recovery rate. [18]

Pro Athletes Use Red Light Therapy for Muscle Recovery

The recent findings derived from various studies conducted that the application of red light therapy accelerates muscle recovery. Hence, users’ especially professional athletes gain immense benefits from red light therapy.

A faster rate of recovery for pro volleyball players using red light therapy: Beach volleyball involves more muscular effort at the stomach and leg regions. However, elite players benefit greatly from the application of red light therapy.

A clinical trial conducted on pro volleyball players reports that biochemical markers including creatine kinase, blood lactate, and c-reactive protein are reduced following the application of red light therapy after exercise.

A faster recovery rate for pro soccer and rugby players with red light therapy: Clinical trials conducted on professional soccer and rugby athletes to assess endurance, speed and recovery ability demonstrates that red light therapy speeds up recovery rate. On this basis, athletes are advised to incorporate red light therapy in their workout routine to enhance recovery. Findings from another study indicate that there was a significant reduction in blood lactate levels (p ≤ 0.05) and perceived fatigue (p ≤ 0.05). [20][21]

These findings are consistent with the result derived from the research done on the rugby field.

Endurance Athletes Trust Red Light Therapy
Currently, sports and medical professionals are using RLT to treat damaged tissue resulting from sprains, injuries, and contusions. 

A top athletic trainer and triathlete, Ben Greenfield says red light therapy is beneficial with respect to sleep, sex drive, and muscle recovery.

From the 2000 Tour until his retirement, Lance Armstrong his teammates received Red Light therapy treatments before and after events. Jeff Spencer, DC, chiropractor for Armstrong and his teammates, considers his 635-nm laser an integral part of his tool kit for their recovery.

✅ Recovering from demanding workouts
Findings from a 2014 clinical trial indicates that red light therapy reduces muscle soreness following vigorous physical activity, particularly when applied immediately after. [7]

✅ Quicker recovery for postmenopausal women
Studies assessing the role of red light therapy in the prevention of muscle fatigue also shows that postmenopausal women experience a faster rate of muscle recovery.

A 2013 clinical trial conducted on 30 postmenopausal women assessed muscle recovery and muscle tolerance within a 6-month period. A control group was involved in treadmill training, while the other received a combination of treadmill training and infrared light therapy. There was a reduced recovery time for the participants who received infrared therapy. The authors concluded that light therapy and training enhances muscular performance and accelerates recovery rate in postmenopausal women. [22]

Red light therapy is more effective than cryotherapy in speeding up muscle recovery rate
A 2016 study compared the effects of red light therapy and cryotherapy as standalone treatments on muscle recovery. The findings reveal that light therapy has an optimal effect on muscle recovery and reduces DOMS and creatine kinase activity. Subsequently, the authors inferred that light therapy will lower the level of biochemical markers responsible for muscle soreness to the baseline, a day after high-intensity eccentric contractions. [23]

Past trials support the positive findings made by the more recent studies. An instance is given with a 1990 study which analysed various soft tissue injuries. The conclusion was that light therapy has a significant positive effect on muscle recovery, and increases the rate of healing. [24]

Bottom Line: Red and Infrared Light Therapy Speeds Muscle Recovery and Prevents Muscle Soreness

Many studies indicate that red light therapy is essential for preventing muscle soreness and accelerating the rate of muscle recovery following a workout session.

The clinical findings from these trials and support by top athletes and fitness experts is overwhelming evidence of the incredible benefits Red Light has to offer. Although many athletes have been studied using Red Light, the benfits can be felt by everyone.

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Scientific Sources and Medical References:

[1] Avni D, Levkovitz S, Maltz L, Oron U. Protection of skeletal muscles from ischemic injury: low-level laser therapy increases antioxidant activity. Photomed Laser Surg. 2005;23:273–277.

[2] Rizzi CF, Mauriz JL, Freitas Correa DS, et al. Effects of low-level laser therapy (LLLT) on the nuclear factor (NF)-kappaB signaling pathway in traumatized muscle. Lasers Surg Med. 2006;38:704–713.

[3] Tullberg M, Alstergren PJ, Ernberg MM. Effects of low-power laser exposure on masseter muscle pain and microcirculation. Pain. 2003;105:89–96.

[4] Douris P, Southard V, et al. Effect of phototherapy on delayed onset muscle soreness. Photomedicine and Laser Surgery. 2006 Jun;24(3):377-82.

[5] Antonialli FC, De Marchi T, Tomazoni SS, et al. Phototherapy in skeletal muscle performance and recovery after exercise: effect of the combination of super-pulsed laser and light-emitting diodes. Lasers in Medical Science. 2014 Nov;29(6):1967-76.

[6] Leal Junior EC, Lopes-Martins RA, Dalan F, et al. Effect of 655-nm low-level laser therapy on exercise-induced skeletal muscle fatigue in humans. Photomed Laser Surg. 2008 Oct;26(5):419-24.

[7] Borges LS, et al. Light-emitting diode phototherapy improves muscle recovery after a damaging exercise. Lasers in Medical Science. 2014 May;29(3):1139-44.

[8] Paolillo FR, Corazza AV, et al. Phototherapy during treadmill training improves quadriceps performance in postmenopausal women. Climacteric. 2014 Jun;17(3):285-93.

[9] Paolillo FR, Milan JC, Aniceto IV, et al. Effects of infrared-LED illumination applied during high-intensity treadmill training in postmenopausal women. Photomedicine in Laser Surg. 2011 Sep;29(9):639-45.

[10] De Marchi T, Leal Junior EC, et al. Low-level laser therapy (LLLT) in human progressive-intensity running: effects on exercise performance, skeletal muscle status, and oxidative stress. Lasers in Medical Science. 2012 Jan;27(1):231-6.

[11] Rossato M, et al. Time Response of Photobiomodulation Therapy on Muscular Fatigue in Humans. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2018 Nov;32(11):3285-3293.

[12] Baroni BM, et al. Low-level laser therapy before eccentric exercise reduces muscle damage markers in humans. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2010 Nov;110(4):789-96.

[13] Bjordal JM, Lopes-Martins RA, Iversen VV. A randomised, placebo controlled trial of low level laser therapy for activated achilles tendinitis with microdialysis measurement of peritendinous prostaglandin E2 concentrations. Br J Sports Med. 2006;40:76–80.

[14] Aimbire F, Albertini R, Pacheco MT, et al. Low-level laser therapy induces dose-dependent reduction of TNF alpha levels in acute inflammation. Photomed Laser Surg. 2006;24:33–37.

[15] Hemvani N, Chitnis DS, George M, Chammania S. In vitro effect of nitrogen and He-Ne laser on the apoptosis of human polymorphonuclear cells from burn cases and healthy volunteers. Photomed Laser Surg. 2005;23:476–479.

[16] University of Rochester Medical Center. Health Encyclopedia, Creatine Kinase.

[17] Machado AF, et al. Phototherapy on Management of Creatine Kinase Activity in General Versus Localized Exercise: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine. 2018 Jun 21

[18] Leal-Junior EC, Vanin AA, Miranda EF, et al. Effect of phototherapy (low-level laser therapy and light-emitting diode therapy) on exercise performance and markers of exercise recovery: a systematic review with meta-analysis. Lasers in Medical Science. 2015 Feb;30(2):925-39.

[19] Leal Junior EC, Lopes-Martins RA, Rossi RP, et al. Effect of cluster multi-diode light emitting diode therapy (LEDT) on exercise-induced skeletal muscle fatigue and skeletal muscle recovery in humans. Lasers in Surgical Medicine. 2009 Oct;41(8):572-7.

[20] Pinto HD, Vanin AA, et al. Photobiomodulation Therapy Improves Performance and Accelerates Recovery of High-Level Rugby Players in Field Test: A Randomized, Crossover, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Study. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2016 Dec;30(12):3329-3338.

[21] De Marchi T, Leal-Junior ECP, et al. Photobiomodulation therapy before futsal matches improves the staying time of athletes in the court and accelerates post-exercise recovery. Lasers in Medical Science. 2018 Sep 27

[22] Paolillo FR, Corazza AV, et al. Infrared LED irradiation applied during high-intensity treadmill training improves maximal exercise tolerance in postmenopausal women: a 6-month longitudinal study. Lasers in Medical Science. 2013 Feb;28(2):415-22.

[23] de Paiva PR, Tomazoni SS, et al. Photobiomodulation therapy (PBMT) and/or cryotherapy in skeletal muscle restitution, what is better? A randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Lasers in Medical Science. 2016 Dec;31(9):1925-1933.

[24] X. H. Li. Laser in the Department of Traumatology. Laser Therapy. 1990; Vol. 2 Issue 3, pp. 119-122.

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