Light therapy and chronic pain


Light therapy, or Photobiomodulation (PMB), is the non-thermal delivery of waves of light energy with a therapeutic benefit. At an optimal wavelength, intensity and exposure time, light aimed at human tissue sets off a series of biochemical events that can result in chronic pain relief, reduced inflammation, and even increased dopamine and serotonin production in the colon. 

SYMBYX’s medical-grade lasers work in the red to infrared parts of the visible light spectrum, emitting waves of energy of ~600-900 nanometers (nm) each.

History of Light Therapy

Light therapy is not a new area of medicine. There are currently > 5,000 peer-reviewed scientific studies reporting on its safe, protective and restorative properties for a number of important health conditions. In 1903, the Nobel Prize in medicine was awarded to Danish Physician, Niels Ryberg Finsen, for his work in treating Smallpox and Tuberculosis with light. Further interest in the field was pioneered by Professor Endre Mester, a Hungarian physician and scientist, who in 1967 successfully used light to heal wounds and regrow hair in mice and people. NASA also experimented frequently with light in the 1970's and 1980's and successfully used LED light to grow flowers in space. Today, light is used to pre-prime patients prior to surgery (including cardiovascular surgery) as well as for several neurodegenerative disorders.

Laser vs LED

Light therapy includes the use of both LED lights and lasers. Laser is a single wavelength that is more focused, powerful and operates at faster speeds than LED. Lasers also transmit further than LEDs and with fewer errors.

High quality, medical grade laser diodes are preferred by and incorporated into all SYMBYX devices because they provide greater precision, increased reliability and consistency over time, and significantly reduced treatment times versus LEDs. SYMBYX devices deliver laser light to the stomach, neck and specific chronic pain sites.

PBM is typically measured in nanometres and the colour or visibility of the light will depend on the wavelength. Applying an optimal dosage of light (which considers wavelength, application time and intensity or strength) is critical.  Treatment or application above or below a threshold level of nanometers will have little or no effect.

Light Therapy for Chronic Pain 

How does PBM affect chronic pain?  PBM influences healthier nerve function by:

  • acting as a nerve block, thus leading to an inhibited translation of pain;
  • disrupting and affecting the physiological organisation of neurons (ie, cells within the nervous system) and how they work;
  • increasing neuronal latency (this is the delay before the transfer of data begins following an instruction or painful stimulus);
  • toning down the parts of a nerve fibre responsible for the fastest transmission of painful stimulus (think of narrowing the bandwidth of a pain fibre so not as much information gets through as before)

SYMBYX’s therapies increase the nervous system’s capacity to tolerate increased painful (noxious) stimulus, which have become artificially lowered in a human chronic pain model.

Scientific Research on Light Therapy for Chronic Pain

Professor Mike Hamblin, Associate Professor, Harvard Medical School and former Principle Investigator at Wellman Centre for Photomedicine at Mass. General Hospital, explains the general mechanisms of action of light therapy on pain and specific conditions, such as arthritis. 

Michael R Hamblin, 19 May 2017, Mechanisms and Applications of the Anti-inflammatory effects of Photobiomodulation, AIMS Biophysics Journal

[Please note: Professor Hamblin is a member of the SYMBYX Scientific Advisory Board]

PhysioCare is CE marked and ARTG-listed for reduction in chronic pain.

The following review provides strong evidence identifying inhibition of nerve function as a mechanism for the clinical application of PBM in pain and anesthesia.