Red light therapy for knee pain scientific research

Red Light Therapy for Knees: Review Of The Scientific Research

Knee pain is a common problem that affects people of all ages, from athletes to seniors. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including injury, arthritis, and overuse. Red light therapy has been shown to be effective in reducing knee pain and improving mobility in patients with chronic knee conditions. 

In fact, scientists have criticized many health guidelines for not reflecting the current evidence of red light therapy effectively, and asked for an adjustment of those for wider access to this safe, non-invasive, evidence-based, non-drug treatment. [1]

In this article, we look at scientific studies and clinical trials to examine the effectiveness on various types of knee pain.

Key Takeaways

1. Red light therapy is a non-invasive treatment that uses low-level red and near-infrared wavelengths to heal skin, nerve, joint and muscle tissue.

2. Red light therapy can relieve knee pain and improve mobility in patients with chronic knee conditions.

3. It works by increasing blood flow to the affected area, reducing inflammation, improving cellular metabolism and promoting the production of collagen, which helps to repair damaged tissue.

Understanding Red Light Therapy

Red light therapy is a non-invasive treatment that uses low-level red and near-infrared light to promote healing in various parts of the body, including the knees. The science behind red light therapy is based on the ability of red and near-infrared light to penetrate deep into the skin and tissues, where it can stimulate cellular activity and promote healing at a cellular level.

How Red Light Therapy Works for Knees

Knees are the largest joints in the body, and they are prone to injury and degeneration due to their constant use and weight-bearing function. 

Chronic knee pain can be caused by a variety of conditions, including arthritis, tendonitis, and bursitis. These conditions can lead to inflammation in the knee joint, which can cause pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility.

When used for knees, the therapy aims to target the joint and surrounding tissue to promote healing, improve circulation, help to stimulate blood circulation, and promote the growth of new tissue. This can be particularly beneficial for people with knee injuries or joint pain, as it can help relieve pain and improve mobility.

Red light therapy can be administered using a variety of devices, including pads, panels, and handheld devices. These devices emit low wavelength red and near-infrared light, which can penetrate the skin and reach deep into the knee joint to stimulate cellular regeneration. Pads are recommended for knee pain, as they can wrap around the knee joint for deep penetration and most effective healing.

Treatment times and frequencies can vary depending on the severity of the condition and the type of device being used.

Red light therapy can be used in conjunction with other treatments, such as physical therapy and medication. The therapy is painless, and patients typically experience no side effects.

Benefits of Red Light Therapy for Knee Pain

Improved Cellular Metabolism

Red light therapy for knees works by penetrating deep into the tissue and stimulating the production of Adenosine Triphosphate in the mitochondria, which is the energy in the cells. This, in turn, helps to speed up our body's natural healing processes.

“The laser causes hyperpolarization of the cell membrane and activation of the resynthesis of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which provides free energy for the regenerative bioprocesses through hydrolysis.” [2]

Blood Circulation 

Another benefit of infrared light therapy is that it increases blood flow to the treated area, which helps to reduce inflammation and promote the regeneration of damaged tissues.

"The results indicated that LLLT accelerated collateral circulation and enhanced microcirculation" [3]

Promote Healing

Studies have shown that red light therapy can help reduce pain and inflammation in the knee joint by increasing blood circulation and stimulating the production of collagen and elastin, which are essential components of healthy joints. It has also been shown to promote the healing of damaged tissues, which can help improve overall knee function.

"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." [4]

Reduced Inflammation

Inflammation can cause pain and stiffness in the knee joint, making it difficult to move around. Red light therapy can help reduce this inflammation because it modulates inflammatory pathways. As a result, patients experience better mobility and less pain.

"Laser therapy is a non-invasive method that contributes to pain relief and reduces inflammation, parallel to the enhanced healing and tissue repair processes." [5]

Relieve Pain

Finally, there are two processes in which the therapy can help reduce the perception of pain in the knee joint, making it easier to move around and perform daily activities.

1) Enhancing opioid production.

"These findings suggest that LLLT induces analgesia in by enhancing peripheral endogenous opioid production in addition to previously reported mechanisms." [6]

2) Modulation of pain signaling pathways.

“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” [7]

Scientific Studies Red Light Therapy For Knee Pain

The effectiveness of red light therapy has been studied extensively, and scientific research has shown that it can be an effective treatment for a range of conditions, including knee pain and osteoarthritis.

Clinical studies and trials




Nonspecific Knee Pain

Our results demonstrate that phototherapy significantly decreased pain [...] red and infrared LEDs is effective to decrease pain and improve quality of life in patients with knee pain.

Degenerative Osteoarthritis

Low-power light therapy is effective in relieving pain and disability in degenerative osteoarthritis of the knee.

Knee Osteoarthritis

Our findings suggest that low level laser therapy when associated with exercises is effective in yielding pain relief, function and activity on patients with osteoarthritis of the knees.

Nonspecific Knee Pain

The addition of PBMT enhances clinical outcomes such as intensity of pain and physical functioning.

Knee Osteoarthritis

The pain reduction from the recommended LLLT doses peaked during follow-ups 2-4 weeks after the end of therapy [...]. Disability was also statistically significantly reduced by LLLT. No adverse events were reported.


LT resulted in positive effects on cartilage repair and may be an adequate therapy for OA treatment.

Comparing Red Light Therapy with Other Treatments

When it comes to treating knee pain, there are a variety of options available. Some of the most common treatments include cortisone shots, physical therapy, and surgery. 

Treatment Type



Cortisone shots

Effective Short-term

Can provide immediate relief, but ony for a few months. Weakens the joint over time. Can have side-effects.

Physical therapy


Can be beneficial but also time-consuming and expensive.


Highly Effective

Long recovery time and a high cost.

Red Light Therapy

Highly Effective

Can provide relief, but involves invasive procedures and extended recovery time.

Potential Side Effects and Precautions

While red light therapy is generally considered safe, there are some potential side effects and precautions to be aware of, particularly when using it to treat knee injuries or inflammation.

Side Effects

Some people with light or skin sensitivities may experience mild side effects like skin irritation. These side effects are typically mild and temporary, and should subside within a few hours of treatment.


Red light therapy is not recommended for everyone. Please consult with a healthcare professional if

- you are pregnant or breastfeeding

- have any skin conditions

- you are taking any medications that may increase your sensitivity to light

It is also important to follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully when using red light therapy devices.


1. Can red light therapy reduce knee swelling?

Yes, red light therapy has been shown to be effective in reducing knee swelling. The therapy works by increasing blood flow to the affected area, which can help reduce inflammation and swelling.

2. Is red light therapy effective for knee osteoarthritis?

Red light therapy has been shown to be effective in reducing pain and improving function in people with knee osteoarthritis. It works by reducing inflammation and promoting healing in the affected area.

3. How long does it take to see results from red light therapy for knee pain?

The length of time it takes to see results from red light therapy for knee pain can vary depending on the individual and the severity of the pain. Some people may see results after just a few sessions, while others may take longer.

4. Are there any side effects of using red light therapy for knee pain?

Red light therapy is generally considered safe and has very few side effects. Some people may experience mild redness or irritation at the site of treatment, but this usually goes away quickly.

5. Can red light therapy be used in conjunction with other knee pain treatments?

Yes, red light therapy can be used in conjunction with other knee pain treatments. It is often used in combination with physical therapy, medication, and other treatments to help reduce pain and improve function in the affected area.

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[1] Chow, R., Liebert, A., Tilley, S. et al. Guidelines versus evidence: what we can learn from the Australian guideline for low-level laser therapy in knee osteoarthritis? A narrative review. Lasers Med Sci 36, 249–258 (2021).

[2] Ivandic T. Low-Level Laser Therapy. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2021 Feb 5;118(5):69. doi: 10.3238/arztebl.m2021.0034. PMID: 33785126; PMCID: PMC8188418.

[3] Ihsan FR. Low-level laser therapy accelerates collateral circulation and enhances microcirculation. Photomed Laser Surg. 2005 Jun;23(3):289-94. doi: 10.1089/pho.2005.23.289. PMID: 15954817.

[4] DE Oliveira MF, Johnson DS, Demchak T, Tomazoni SS, Leal-Junior EC. Low-intensity LASER and LED (photobiomodulation therapy) for pain control of the most common musculoskeletal conditions. Eur J Phys Rehabil Med. 2022 Apr;58(2):282-289. doi: 10.23736/S1973-9087.21.07236-1. Epub 2021 Dec 16. PMID: 34913330; PMCID: PMC9980499.

[5] Dompe C, Moncrieff L, Matys J, Grzech-Leśniak K, Kocherova I, Bryja A, Bruska M, Dominiak M, Mozdziak P, Skiba THI, Shibli JA, Angelova Volponi A, Kempisty B, Dyszkiewicz-Konwińska M. Photobiomodulation-Underlying Mechanism and Clinical Applications. J Clin Med. 2020 Jun 3;9(6):1724. doi: 10.3390/jcm9061724. PMID: 32503238; PMCID: PMC7356229.

[6] Hagiwara S, Iwasaka H, Okuda K, Noguchi T. GaAlAs (830 nm) low-level laser enhances peripheral endogenous opioid analgesia in rats. Lasers Surg Med. 2007 Dec;39(10):797-802. doi: 10.1002/lsm.20583. PMID: 18081143.

[7] [6] Hamblin MR. Can osteoarthritis be treated with light? Arthritis Res Ther. 2013 Oct 29;15(5):120. doi: 10.1186/ar4354. PMID: 24286607; PMCID: PMC3978432.

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