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Pain Management

Why and What is Infrared Therapy?

Light therapy has been shown in over 40 years of independent research worldwide to deliver powerful therapeutic benefits to living tissues and organisms. Both visible and infrared light have been shown to effect at least 24 different positive changes at a cellular level. Visible light penetrates tissue to a depth of about 8-10 mm. It is very beneficial in treating problems close to the surface such as wounds, cuts, scars, trigger and acupuncture points and is particularly effective in treating infections. Infrared light (904nm) penetrates to a depth of about 30-40mm which makes it more effective for bones, joints, deep muscle, etc.

Depth of penetration is defined as the depth at which 60% of the light is absorbed by the tissue, while 40% of the light will continue to be absorbed in a manner that is less fully understood. Treating points with light can have a dramatic effect on remote and internal areas of the body through the stimulation of nerves, acupuncture and trigger points that perform function not unlike transmission cables.

The technology is now becoming accepted and widely used in human medicine as well. Light therapy stimulates the natural healing power in the cells of the body. This tool uses the energy of light, called photon energy, to stimulate the activity of certain cell components. By using photo energy, you have a simple, effective, non-pharmacological medical alternative. Conservative management of acute and chronic injuries and postoperative wounds has come to include the use of photo energy because it is quickly effective, cost effective, and easy to administer.

Future LED Applications

Much research is underway on the use of medical LED therapy to determine whether there are other applications for light therapy. "Research is currently being done on the different effects of different spectrums of light on living tissues," says Braden. It is thought that the visible red spectrum, which is roughly in the 600 to 700 nanometer range, is effective with surface issues such as wound care and that higher wavelengths, including infrared, are more penetrating. Studies also suggest that going down to the 400 or 500 nanometer spectrum, which is blue light, might be effective for treating skin disorders including acne and scarring.

"We've already seen how using LEDs can improve a bone-marrow transplant patient's quality of life," said Dr. Harry Whelan, professor of neurology, pediatrics and hyperbaric medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin. "These trials will hopefully help us take the next steps to provide this as a standard of care for this ailment."

"Companies in this business are looking at the medical research that is being conducted regarding different frequencies of light to see where this technology might take us," says Braden. He foresees wound care as being the next big application. "You can expect over the next few years to see LED therapy as being the primary treatment for wounds such as post-surgical and non-healing wounds like diabetic ulcers." Whelan and Ignatius say they would like to test their technology in other clinical situations such as spinal cord injuries and for treatment of Parkinson's disease, strokes, brain tumors, and tissue and organ regeneration.

"It may seem strange to some people because it is very much a change in the whole paradigm of medicine, which has been pretty much poisons and knives up until this point. The use of natural energy at an intensity that is brighter than the sun, but still nonetheless near infrared light at wavelengths that are helpful and not harmful, to enhance the cells' natural biochemistry truly has a lot of potential in the medical arena," says Whelan.

Light is energy that moves in a wave pattern. Light is also characterized by its wavelength in the electromagnetic spectrum. There are components in the tissue and blood that absorbs these wavelengths and activate normal cell activity that may have been disrupted by injury or sickness. The reason for this increased cell activity is the photon. The photon is the energy portion of the light wave. For this reason we often refer to this therapy as PHOTON THERAPY.

Infrared therapy utilizes light energy in the invisible range of light. Infrared rays are just beyond the visible red range of light in the spectrum, thus we cannot see the Infrared light emitted from the treatment unit. Virtually all light has some penetration properties; however, it is often absorbed by the outermost skin layers. Traditional thermal (hot) laser light, on the other hand, can penetrate but often destroys tissue.