How I used Red Light therapy To Aid Healing After Back Surgery
Red light therapy has many benefits, including post-surgery therapeutic healing. I’ve got all the details on the benefits of red light therapy and what to look for when you’re ready to purchase a red light device.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase through these links, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Medical disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only and not intended to be medical advice. Consult with your doctor before using red light therapy.
I’m using red light therapy as a therapeutic device to aid in post-operative rehabilitation after back surgery. Red light therapy has helped to reduce my nerve discomfort, tame inflammation and repair damaged tissue following surgery.
After a year of trying almost everything to heal a herniated disc at L5 S1, I met with a neurosurgeon and made the decision to get a microdiscectomy. If you are dealing with back or sciatic pain, I strongly urge you to get an MRI and follow up with a neurosurgeon or orthopedic surgeon to discuss your options.
The surgery immediately relieved the awful pain I was in, but the neurosurgeon informed me that this was a bad herniation, and my sciatic nerve was in terrible shape (he said he rarely sees them this bad). After immediate relief following the surgery, I was warned that I would experience nerve pain from the injured sciatic nerve. This has been the case to some extent, although luckily it has been minimal compared to the severe pain from the actual herniation impacting the nerve. Read on for the many benefits of red light therapy and how it has helped me.
How Does Red Light Therapy Fit Into My Back Surgery Story?
I was experiencing daily sciatic nerve discomfort two months post-surgery, so I did some research into red light therapy and whether it would aid in my recovery. From everything I read, it sounded promising that red light therapy would reduce inflammation and stimulate healing after surgery. Here are some scientific studies that support this claim:
- A 2018 study found that red light therapy decreased pain intensity and post-surgery inflammation in patients receiving total hip arthroplasty (1).
- Red light therapy was used in a 2022 pilot study and was found to reduce pain and swelling in patients who had undergone knee surgery (2).
How Red Light Therapy Is Working For Me Post Back Surgery
Red light therapy feels calming and soothing on my lower back, on my butt and on my upper back legs since using it after back surgery. If I go several days without using red light therapy, I start to feel slight discomfort of my sciatic nerve, and I honestly start to crave the red light! Spoiler Alert: I have the MitoPRO 750 and love it!
If you’ve had surgery and are considering using red light therapy, I recommend consulting with your doctor first, and if you get the go ahead, by all means start using one! You will notice benefits after a few sessions, and will really feel the benefits after 3 months. My personal experience with using red light therapy post back surgery has been very positive, and I feel that using red light therapy after my back surgery has been therapeutic and beneficial to my recovery.
Red & Near Infrared Wavelengths
Red light has a wavelength of approximately 620-750 nanometers (nm). Red light has the longest wavelengths of visible light and is considered low energy (as opposed to UV light). Near-infrared (NIR) light is often concurrently used in red light therapy. NIR light has a wavelength of approximately 750-1200nm and is not visible to the human eye.
Red light devices emit red and near-infrared (NIR) wavelengths (depending on the brand and model) that can penetrate approximately 5mm (and beyond) into skin and body tissue, reaching all skin layers, including nerves, hair follicles and blood vessels.
How Does Red Light Therapy Work?
Red and near-infrared (NIR) light photons are absorbed by mitochondria. The energy produced from this process provides beneficial properties to the body, including a healing effect on the body depending on where the light is targeted.
Red and near-infrared light has been rigorously studied in both animals and humans, and the general consensus of the studies is that red light therapy aids in improving a wide range of conditions, and exposure to red light therapy in animals and humans induces a positive effect on cell function.
As an example, A 2019 study found that red light therapy increased the production of hyaluronic acid, collagen and elastin in skin after 3 days of exposure to red light therapy (3).
Common Uses For Red Light Therapy
- Pain (arthritis, chronic back pain, neck pain, muscle strain pain, wound pain, carpel tunnel pain, bursitis)
- hair growth
- skin quality & tone
- wound healing
- sleep quality
- workout recovery
IS RED LIGHT THERAPY SAFE?
Yes! Red light therapy is safe and is FDA-approved for treatment of chronic joint pain, wound healing, hair loss, wrinkles, and acne. Some red light therapy devices have lights that flicker and can be triggering if you have epilepsy or a history of seizures. Mito Red Light (the brand I use) has a continuous, flicker-free light that doesn’t pulse.
Red and NIR light are not the same as UV rays from the sun or from tanning beds – there is no increased risk of cancer or UV damage (4).
When Not To Use Red Light Therapy Or Check With Doctor First
Always check with your doctor first. Do not use red light therapy if you are experiencing burns on your body, active cancer, recent Lasik surgery, hyperthyroidism, epilepsy, pregnancy, eye disease, fever or infection, systemic lupus, severe bleeding or melasma.
How Often & How Long To Use Red Light Therapy
I started using my red light for 2 minutes every other day for 2 weeks, then worked up to 3 minutes every other day for a few weeks. There is an acclimation period and I recommend following the instruction manual for your device. Currently, my sweet spot for benefitting from red light therapy is 4 to 5 minutes either every day or every other day. It feels very soothing and calms my sciatic nerve discomfort.
Basically, you want to start slowly and work your way up time-wise. If you plateau, you may want to add another minute and see how that feels. I would not recommend using the red light for more than 20 minutes per session. After 20 minutes, you will stop feeling any benefits from the red light and there is really no point of using it for a longer time-period.
If you use the red light more than once per day, space out your sessions with 6 hours between them. Recommended use for red light therapy is anywhere from 4 to 10 times per week.
How Far Away From The Device Should I Stand Or Sit
Either stand, sit or lay (depending on your setup and if you have a stand) 6 to 18 inches away from the device. You can wear minimal clothing if necessary, but you really want to expose as much bare skin as you can. Personally, I don’t wear any clothing in the area I’m exposing (just bare skin).Do not use sunscreen or makeup on any areas of skin at the time that you are using the light.
Should I Wear Goggles?
I use the goggles provided, but I have heard that some people just keep their eyes closed while using the light (it is very bright). Although Red light therapy has potential for improving retinal healing, more research is needed, and I would err on the cautious side and not stare into the lights.
What Does Red Light Therapy Feel Like? Does It Hurt?
To me, red light therapy feels slightly warm and soothing, and it is not painful.
Things To Consider When Buying A Red Light
- Wavelength range: This can include both red and NIR wavelengths. Utilizing multiple wavelengths can be complimentary and synergistic. A red light therapy device will typically include red light in the optimal healing spectrum of 630-680nm, and near infrared light in the optimal healing spectrum of 800-880nm. I would look for a device that offers both red and near infrared wavelengths.
- Size: What area of the body are you looking to treat? Small devices cover a small percentage of your body and larger devices will cover larger areas or most of the body. Some companies offer full body panels for one whole side of the body or a light bed that covers the entire body.
- Power density and depth penetration: This is calculated based on the wattage of the light and the treatment area. For therapeutic benefits, look for the power density to be at least 30mW/cm2 for longer range (2 to 3 feet) or around 100mW/cm2 from close range (about 6 inches).
- Number of LEDs: The more LEDs (Light-emitting diodes) a device has, the better the treatment.
- EMF: EMF (electromagnetic radiation forces) is a measure of electromagnetic radiation produced by the device. Look for a device with extremely low EMF emissions.
Why I Chose The Mito Red Light
Mito Red Light offers industry-leading devices that provide you with high-quality panels that are third-party tested and designed to give you the best effects possible. Mito Red Light offers products that are a combination of 660nm red light and 850nm NIR light, as well as products that use two wavelengths of red light (630nm & 660nm) and two wavelengths of NIR light (830nm & 850nm). The MitoPRO Series utilizes 4 wavelengths of red and near-infrared light that stimulate cytochrome c oxidase in the mitochondria.
What Model Of Red Light I Use
I bought the MitoPRO 750 because it comes with 4 wavelengths (630nm, 660nm, 830nm & 850nm) that can be used together or individually, and the device is long enough to cover my mid-back, my butt and all the way to the backs of my thighs. I also like the MitoPRO 750 series because it has an integrated digital control panel and built-in timer, and this model has a modular design (you can physically connect the build out arrays) with mobile stand compatibility. The MitoPRO 300 is smaller, lighter (7 lbs) and more budget-friendly, so I would recommend this if you want a smaller unit that comes with a tabletop stand.
The MitoPRO 750 comes with an over-the-door hanger and pulley system for adjustments. It weighs 15 pounds, so if you’ve just had surgery, you may want some help setting it up on a door. If you purchase the MitoPRO 1500, I would recommend getting the Mito Red Light Vertical Stand.
All-in-all, I would highly recommend using red light therapy to help with the healing process after surgery. I’m impressed that Mito Red Light offers high-quality red and near-infrared light panels with low EMF and high irradiance at an affordable price. Plus, each device is third party tested and Mito Red Light publishes their diagnostic data.
- Langella LG, Casalechi HL, Tomazoni SS, Johnson DS, Albertini R, Pallotta RC, Marcos RL, de Carvalho PTC, Leal-Junior ECP. Photobiomodulation therapy (PBMT) on acute pain and inflammation in patients who underwent total hip arthroplasty-a randomized, triple-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Lasers Med Sci. 2018 Dec;33(9):1933-1940. doi: 10.1007/s10103-018-2558-x. Epub 2018 Jun 16. PMID: 29909435.
- de Rezende MU, Varone BB, Martuscelli DF, Ocampos GP, Freire GMG, Pinto NC, de Sousa MVP. Pilot study of the effect of therapeutic photobiomodulation on postoperative pain in knee arthroplasty. Braz J Anesthesiol. 2022 Jan-Feb;72(1):159-161. doi: 10.1016/j.bjane.2021.07.040. Epub 2021 Nov 17. PMID: 34800495; PMCID: PMC9373348.
- Kim B, Mukherjee A, Seo I, Fassih A, Southall M, Parsa R. Low-level red and infrared light increases expression of collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid in skin. Journal of The American Academy of Dermatology. 2019;81(4). DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaad.2019.10.089
- Myakishev-Rempel M, Stadler I, Brondon P, et al. A PreliminarySstudy of the Safety of Red Light Phototherapy of Tissues Harboring Cancer. Photomed Laser Surg. 2012;30(9):551-558. doi:10.1089/pho.2011.3186