How Does Red Light Therapy Work?

Red light therapy works by exposing the body to low levels of red or near-infrared light. The healing light can penetrate deep into the skin, reaching tissues and organs beneath. This penetration triggers various biological responses at the cellular level that benefit a variety of acute and chronic health conditions. Particularly those health conditions that are common among older adults due to lower cellular metabolism caused by ageing, can be healed effectively.

In this article, we will explore the various biological processes red light therapy stimulates to answer the question: How does red light therapy work?

Red Light Therapy For The Healing Of Chronic Pain - The Biomechanisms Explained

Red light therapy, in scientific terms also known as low-level laser therapy (LLLT) or photobiomodulation, is a non-invasive and drug-free treatment that utilizes low-intensity red and near-infrared light to stimulate various biological healing processes. Here is a list of the biomechanisms stimulated by red light therapy.

Let's explore the biomechanisms of red light therapy.

Pain Relief

Red light therapy can help alleviate pain by modulating pain-signaling pathways in the body through the release of neurotransmitters and neuromodulators, such as endogenous opioids and serotonin. These substances help to inhibit pain transmission and modulate pain perception.


Additionally, better microcirculation promoting the release of endorphins, the body's natural painkillers, and the warmth of the red light relaxes the muscles. Thus, red light therapy offers a non-invasive and drug-free method to manage and reduce pain for older adults.

“In addition to the demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects, LLLT may have benefits provided by its ability to act on nerves by reducing pain transmission and activating endogenous opioid receptors” [Hamblin MR]

Reduction Of Inflammation

Inflammation is the body's natural response to injury or irritation, and it often involves the release of chemicals that can cause pain. Inflamed tissues can also restrict movement, cause stiffness and compress surrounding nerves leading to further discomfort.


Red light therapy has been found to activate anti-inflammatory responses in the body, which helps reduce pain and inflammation. It works by inhibiting the inflammatory signaling pathway. 


This means that red light therapy can help decrease an excessive and uncontrolled inflammatory response in the body such as swelling. This is especially beneficial for older adults who may experience chronic inflammation.

"Laser therapy is a non-invasive method that contributes to pain relief and reduces inflammation, parallel to the enhanced healing and tissue repair processes." [Dompe C, Moncrieff L, et al.]


"A single application of LLLT produced significant reductions in inflammatory cell infiltration and inflammatory cytokines" [Hamblin MR]

Increased Blood Flow

Another significant benefit of red light therapy is its ability to improve blood circulation. The light energy stimulates the formation of new capillaries, enhancing blood flow to injured areas. This increased circulation delivers vital oxygen, nutrients, and immune cells necessary for efficient healing. By allowing for better delivery of essential resources, new capillaries expedite the healing process.


Improved blood flow also aids in removing waste products and toxins from affected areas, and creates an optimal environment for tissue repair and regeneration. Thus, further supporting the body's natural healing mechanisms.

"A significant increase in blood flow was noted in the treated group" [Frangez I, Cankar K, et al.]


"The results indicated that LLLT accelerated collateral circulation and enhanced microcirculation" [Ihsan FR]

Improve Mitochondrial Functioning

Similar to how our body can use sunlight to produce Vitamin D, it is able to absorb the energy of red light photons to produce cellular energy, also called Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). This boost in ATP helps cells function more efficiently and repair damage more effectively.


Through this process, red light therapy restores normal mitochondrial functioning and restores oxidative stress. As a result, it can support tissue repair, reduce pain, and enhance recovery after injury or exercise.

"The study demonstrated an immediate increase in ATP production in vitro and an initial acceleration of callus formation in the fracture healing process, in the presence of NIR." [Quirk BJ, Sannagowdara K, et al.]

Repair Of Degenerative Changes

Scientific studies also show that red light therapy supports the repair of degenerative changes in tendons, cartilage, and bones. This is achieved by 2 mechanisms:

Enhancing cell proliferation that activates signaling pathways to up-regulate growth factors.

Increasing the production of bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells (BMMSC).

"These low doses of light have demonstrated the ability to heal skin, nerves, tendons, cartilage and bones." [Cotler HB, Chow RT, Hamblin MR, Carroll J.]


“LLLT can enhance the viability and proliferation rate of healthy and especially osteoporotic autologous BMMSCs” [Fallahnezhad S, Piryaei A, Tabeie F, Nazarian H, Darbandi H, Amini A, Mostafavinia A, Ghorishi SK, Jalalifirouzkouhi A]

Improving Bone Density & Bone Health

By increasing the activity of osteoblasts (the cells responsible for building new bone tissue), red light therapy accelerates bone formation and bone remodeling. Furthermore, this therapy stimulates cellular metabolism, promoting protein synthesis and enhancing overall bone regeneration.

"LLLT can accelerate bone formation by increasing osteoblastic activity." [Kazem Shakouri S et al.]


“The results demonstrated that the increasing rate of bone mineral density was higher in the laser (L) group than in the control (C) group.” [Kazem S, Soleimanpour J, Salekzamani Y, Oskuie MR]

Protecting Nerve Cells

Myelin is the protective covering of nerve fibers. When this protection is damaged through auto-immune reactions (e.g. MS), diabetes (diabetic neuropathy), certain medications or infections, it can lead to a variety of neurological issues, such as vision loss, pain, numerous muscular problems, mood disturbances, sensations of tingling, and impaired mobility, among others. 


Red light therapy protects this protective covering in 2 ways:

Promoting the reproduction of Schwann cells which insulate nerve cells with a myelin sheath. This supports the maintenance and repair of the peripheral nervous system.

Certain harmful cells, like T-cells in Multiple Sclerosis, are drawn to specific areas of the central nervous system by proteins known as cytokines. By diminishing cytokines, RLT can reduce harm to Myelin.

"Laser therapy is a non-invasive method that contributes to pain relief and reduces inflammation, parallel to the enhanced healing and tissue repair processes." [Dompe C, Moncrieff L, et al.]


"Our results demonstrate that low level laser therapy stimulate human schwann cell proliferation and NGF gene expression in vitro." [Saeed Oraee Yazdani, Azadeh Fahim Golestaneh, et al.]

Inducing Growth Factors

Red light therapy has been shown to induce the production of growth factors in cells. These are proteins that play a crucial role in cell proliferation, differentiation, and tissue repair. Growth factors promote the synthesis of DNA, RNA, and proteins, leading to increased cellular activity and enhanced healing processes.


This means accelerated wound healing, tissue regeneration in nerves, joints, muscles & the nervous system, and overall cellular rejuvenation. Additionally, the induction of growth factors may contribute to improved collagen production, aiding in skin health and the reduction of wrinkles. 

"Moreover, low-level laser radiation enhanced the production and release of various small molecules and growth factors, including TGF-β, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), platelet-derived growth factor, and glial-derived neurotrophic factor." [Dompe C, Moncrieff L, et al.]


"In this study, LED irradiation improved nerve regeneration and increased antioxidation levels in the chamber fluid. Therefore, we propose that antioxidation induced by LEDs may be conducive to nerve regeneration." [Ishiguro M, Ikeda K, et al.]

Production Of Dopamine And Serotonin

Surprisingly, the gut plays a crucial role in Parkinson's disease, as it has the capacity to produce neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin.


By applying Photobiomodulation therapy to the gut, Parkinson's patients can reduce inflammation and stimulate the production of short-chain fatty acids. This directly impacts the production of dopamine and serotonin, providing therapeutic benefits.

"In summary, our results indicate that NIr light treatment offers neuroprotection against MPTP toxicity for dopaminergic cells" [Shaw VE, Spana S, et al.]


"There were consistently more dopaminergic cells in MPTP-treated mice irradiated with NIr than in those that were not irradiated." [Moro C, Massri NE, et al.]

Accelerate Tissue Repair & Healing

Deep healing red light therapy has been shown to restore normal mitochondrial functioning through a process known as photobiomodulation.


This is because red light therapy stimulates the production of cellular energy, called adenosine triphosphate or ATP. Cellular energy naturally slows down as we age, and by restoring our cellular energy through the use of red light photons, our cells can function better.


As a result, our cells can repair and replace damaged tissue faster allowing our body’s innate healing processes to work at their optimal level to keep our body pain-free.

“The photons are absorbed by mitochondrial chromophores in skin cells. Consequently, electron transport, adenosine triphosphate nitric oxide release, blood flow, reactive oxygen species increase, and diverse signaling pathways are activated. Stem cells can be activated, allowing increased tissue repair and healing.” [Avci P, Gupta A, Sadasivam M, Vecchio D, Pam Z, Pam N, Hamblin MR]

Collagen Production

Red light therapy stimulates fibroblasts that produce collagen. Collagen is a protein that provides structural support to the skin, joints, tendons, ligaments, bones and various organs throughout the body. It is responsible for the flexibility & resilience of these different tissues and thus reduces the risk of injuries.


By stimulating the collagen production in our body, red light therapy helps to preserve proper functioning of muscles, joints, gums and orangs, and supports healing.

“Demonstrated efficacy and safety for skin rejuvenation and intradermal collagen increase” [Wunsch A et al.]


"This improvement was associated to a significant increase of collagen" [Patriota RC et al.]

Scientific Evidence

Numerous scientific studies have researched the biomechanisms induced by red light therapy, some of which we want to reference here.




Low-level laser (light) therapy in skin

"The main medical applications of LLLT are reducing pain and inflammation, augmenting tissue repair and promoting regeneration of different tissues and nerves, and preventing tissue damage in situations where it is likely to occur."

The Use of Low Level Laser Therapy For Musculoskeletal Pain

"These low doses of light have demonstrated the ability to heal skin, nerves, tendons, cartilage and bones."

Low-intensity LASER and LED for pain control of the most common musculoskeletal conditions

"PBMT found to have profound biological effects on tissue including increased cell proliferation, accelerating the healing process, promoting tissue regeneration, preventing cell death, anti-inflammatory activity and relief of pain."

Mechanisms and Pathways of Pain Photobiomodulation

"Application of light cutaneously has peripheral and central effects to reduce pain."

Photobiomodulation-Underlying Mechanism and Clinical Applications

"Laser therapy is a non-invasive method that contributes to pain relief and reduces inflammation, parallel to the enhanced healing and tissue repair processes."


Red light therapy is an increasingly popular and natural approach to alleviate various acute and chronic conditions related to pain. With its ability to reduce pain, improve blood circulation, relax muscles, and promote tissue repair, it offers a promising alternative to traditional treatments.

The Broader Impact of Red Light Therapy on Health For Older Adults

Explore all articles from our blog series on the analysis of the scientific research for:


Knee Pain
Back Pain
Neck Pain
Pain Management
Wound Healing
Multiple Sclerosis

Targeted Treatment For Specific Areas

While red light therapy proves to be highly effective, not all red light therapy devices are created equal. Pads are designed to target specific areas of the body, while panels emit light over a much broader area.


Red light therapy for this condition requires deep penetration, which is why a red light therapy belt is far more effective than a red light therapy panel. You can put a red light therapy belt closer to your skin, and don’t have to stand bare naked in front of a panel for 20 minutes.


By focusing the therapy on specific areas, you maximize its benefits outlined above and reduce pain more effectively.


Consistency is one of the most important variables to the effectiveness of red light therapy when it comes to pain relief, so ease of use should be a major criteria for consideration. Red light therapy belts are convenient and easy to incorporate into your daily routine. They are portable, which means you can wear them while pursuing other activities, or even take them on your next trip.

Choosing the Right Red Light Therapy Device

Here are some important factors to consider when choosing a red light therapy device to relieve chronic pain:

FDA Approval: Look for devices that have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for safety and effectiveness.

Wavelength of Light: Consider devices that emit a combination of red and near-infrared light, as these wavelengths have been shown to be most effective in reducing pain and inflammation.

Ease of Use: Look for devices that are user-friendly, easy to operate, and come with clear instructions for use.

Treatment Protocols and Frequency: Consider devices that offer recommended treatment protocols and frequency guidelines based on scientific research and clinical studies.

Cost: Compare the cost of different red light therapy devices and consider your budget. Keep in mind that medical-grade devices may be more expensive but can offer better results.

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