Red Light Therapy for Recovery & Performance

Red Light Therapy for Recovery & Performance

Many sportspersons use red light therapy (RLT) as a vital tool to help boost recovery times and enhance performance. But anyone—not only athletes—can take advantage of RLT to treat injury, strain, and inflammation. But how does it work, and just how safe is it for speeding up your natural healing process? 

Red light therapy is a safe practice when delivered by trained professionals or certified devices for home use. Clinical research has shown RLT to be effective for improved recovery times, physical performance, increased strength, and endurance [1] [2] [3] [4].

This guide looks at how RLT helps your body return to a normal functional state after stress. That could be to treat muscle stiffness, soreness and to improve elasticity. You will also learn how RLT works for recovery optimisation. But first, let's look at the safety aspect of using this light treatment for healing and performance.

How Safe Is Red Light Therapy for Recovery & Performance?

RLT is safe, a claim backed by science. Moreover, RLT is a non-invasive, non-toxic, and painless treatment. The only caveat is to use a quality home device or trained therapist. RLT can also be a cheaper, less harmful alternative to harsh topical treatments and prescription medications.

Variations of Red Light Influence Recovery & Performance

Several variations of red light are used for RLT, ranging from yellowish amber tones to near-infra-red light or NIR. It works by encouraging the cells inside your body to produce more energy faster than usual. As a result, this process enables cells to repair and renew much quicker than they otherwise would.

Also, the depth and quality of red light treatments depend on these 7 factors:

  1. Differing wavelengths
  2. Different wattages
  3. Light energy output
  4. Surface area covered
  5. The frequency emitted (in nanometres)
  6. Diodes and tubes used
  7. Treatments & features

Other Names for Infrared Light

This guide uses red light therapy (RLT) and near infra red light (NIR) interchangeably. However, you may come across other names and acronyms in your research. Just know that they pretty much refer to the same thing (see table below).

 FULL NAME ABBR
 Cold Laser Therapy CLT
 Low Level Light Therapy LLLT
 Low-Power Laser Therapy LPLT
 Photobiomodulation PBM
 Photobiostimulation -
 Photonic Stimulation -
 Soft Laser Therapy SLT

 

Now let's look at the role of RLT for recovery & performance, starting with the former.

Why Recovery Matters So Much

The physical demands and emotional strain you put yourself under may be more than you realise. Your body can put up with a lot, but it must rest between exertion. It's something athletes refer to as downtime. And there can be dire consequences if you push yourself too hard, too often, without adequate respite.

We could avoid many health issues and recover in less time if we listened to our bodies more. Improved circulation, quality sleep, and a balanced diet would all help. Alas, lifestyle changes can be hard to maintain in this fast-paced, non-stop world of ours.

You Are Not a Machine

No human is a machine, and even the fittest of bodies have their limitations. Denying yourself recovery time can eventually lead to fatigue that impacts performance [5]

Here are some of the other potential consequences of neglecting recovery:

  • Eventual chronic inflammation
  • Slow-healing injuries
  • Noticeable drop in physical performance
  • Negative effect on hormone levels
  • Weakened immune system and the implications of that

How Red Light Treatment Aids Recovery

There's nothing more frustrating than being restricted by injury. Yet, that's what happens when active types don't allow their body time to recover. It's also why many athletes now use red light therapy before and or after a workout.

1990s: This was a time when pro athletes and professional sports teams began to recognise and apply LED therapy to treat sports-related injuries.

RLT Before Activity or Exercise

Using RLT before physical activity is a great way to precondition your body and complement the warmup routine. RLT helps reduce the risk of strain and muscle damage, thus reducing soreness, inflammation risk, and slow recovery times [6] [7].  

RLT After Activity or Exercise

Red Light Therapy is highly effective when applied post-workout as part of your regular cooling down routine. It works by speeding up muscle adaptation which in turn accelerates your natural recovery process. Equally impressive is how RLT relieves acute inflammation by increasing blood circulation to damaged tissues [8].

RLT's Effects on Muscle Cells

Human muscles contain trillions of cells that need lots of energy to function. Scientists call this energy source adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Your cells need ATP specifically because it's a fast-releasing energy-carrying molecule. Without ATP, you couldn't carry out demanding tasks or recover properly after strenuous physical activity. 

1990s: Physical therapists noted that patients who had red light treatment had a 50 times faster recovery rate than those who had no light therapy.

RLT triggers other helpful mechanisms by improving the following:

  • Cellular ATP energy synthesis
  • Glycogen synthesis
  • Reduces oxidative stress (a bodily imbalance that leads to tissue & cell damage)
  • Protects against exercise-induced muscle damage
  • Blood circulation, which improves the availability of oxygen and nutrients

The effects RLT has as an alternative treatment for recovery is no small thing. And best of all, it's pain-free, affordable, easy to administer, and it works. Using RLT to enhance post-workout recovery and reduce fatigue is an incredible breakthrough. It's now the easiest way to stimulate, heal, and restore damaged tissue [9].

How Red Light Therapy Helps Boost Physical Performance

RLT not only speeds up recovery it also helps boost physical performance. The internet is awash with published peer-reviewed studies on the positive effects. That includes aerobic workouts, increased strength, speed, stamina, and physical endurance more generally. Let's use volleyball players to illustrate.

More Endurance and Better Performing Volleyball Players

Studies found that volleyball players who engaged in RLT had a 14% increase in elbow flexor repetitions. Researchers also noticed an 8%–11.6% increase in the elapsed time before players showed signs of exhaustion after RLT [10] [11].

Improved Torque in Strength Training

A 2016 trial looked at male strength trainers doing leg-presses and leg extensions. The study group was between 18–35 years. The results saw significant improvements in the RLT group, with a 55% increase in their max torque ability. The participants in this trial applied low-level laser therapy (LLLT) pre-workout [12] [13].   

Stronger Hand Grip

RLT treatments improve hand exercises and grip strength. Researchers measured this using a device called an isokinetic dynamometer. After applying light treatment, the study results saw an increase in hand and grip reps by up to 52% in some volunteers. 

RLT Improves Physical Endurance

Light therapy significantly improves physical endurance. These findings result from studies that measured time-to-exhaustion and oxygen uptake. The placebo group came in a poor second, while the light-treated group excelled. They surpassed the placebo group in cycling, field, treadmill stamina, etc., with less oxygen deficit. 

A 2017 study monitored people who applied RLT before and after endurance training. There was a 3x improvement compared to the exercise-only group [15].

Run Faster with Red Light Treatment

Brazilian researchers conducted a study of male athletes in 2018. They split volunteer runners into three groups, i.e., red light therapy, no RLT, and a placebo. The light-treated group easily outperformed the other two groups in the following areas [16]:

  • Enhanced running economy
  • Rating of perceived exertion (RPE)
  • Velocity (speed w/ direction)
  • Time to exhaustion (TTE)

To put that all into layman's terms, the RLT group were faster, more efficient runners

Closing Thoughts

Study after study has proved that red light therapy has a positive impact on recovery and performance. Researchers have studied its effects on both genders and people of all age groups. The findings consistently show that RLT used with physical activity—especially workouts—offers significant improvements.

If you demand a safe, alternative way to boost performance and recovery times, give RLT a try. Remember, it's painless, non-invasive, harmless, and affordable.

Resource Links

  1. https://nyaspubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/induce-wound-healing/ 
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24249354/improves-muscular-performance/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/LLLT-on-physical-strength/ 
  4. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/improvement-of-endurance/ 
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29345524/recovery-and-performance-in-sport/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/fatigue-and-repair-benefited-by-LLLT/
  7. https://www.semanticscholar.org/NIR-stimulate-heal-regenerate-damaged tissue/ 
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/pbm-reduces-inflammation/ 
  9. https://www.researchgate.net/rlt-stimulates-heals-restores-damaged-muscle-tissue/ 
  10. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/exercise-induced-muscle-fatigue/
  11. https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/lllt-increased-muscle-fatigue-resistance/  
  12. https://www.researchgate.net/LLLT-on-physical-strength-training/ 
  13. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/RLT-strength-training/ 
  14. https://journals.sbmu.ac.ir/effect-of-low-level-laser-therapy-and-hand-grip/ 
  15. https://bmcsportsscimedrehabil.biomedcentral.com/endurance-training-RLT/ 
  16. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/performance-parameters-during-running-tests/