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Red Light Therapy for Traumatic Brain Injury: A Comprehensive Overview

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a serious and life-altering health condition, and it can have a profound impact on an individual’s physical health and emotional well-being.

Although many treatments for TBI have been researched, an emerging option may offer a non-invasive alternative. In recent clinical trials, using red light therapy for traumatic brain injury has shown promising results.

Using this type of therapy, a patient lies down in a photobiomodulation chamber. This chamber delivers red- and near-infrared light to the body, which stimulates cellular processes that may help to reduce pain or improve neurological function among TBI sufferers. Although more research is needed, red light therapy for TBI shows promise.

This guide highlights a theory of why photobiomodulation may offer support to TBI sufferers, how PBM therapy works, and cover relevant research on PBM light therapy and traumatic brain injury.

Red Light Therapy and the Brain

Research has shown that red- and near-infrared light stimulates cellular activity. In fact, red light has been shown to encourage the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is a critical energy source for cells.

Because of this, PBM therapy, which uses red and near-infrared light, can help cells repair and rejuvenate. TBI generally causes a wide range of cellular dysfunction activities; therefore, this increase in ATP helps these affected cells repair, which can cause a cascade of positive effects in the body.

Here are some ways PBM and red light therapy are thought to help treat TBI symptoms:

  • Cellular Energy Production: The red and near-infrared wavelengths (600-1100nm) used in PBM can penetrate skin and soft/hard tissues, and they are absorbed by cells’ mitochondria. This absorption enhances the production of ATP, the energy source of a cell, thereby aiding in cell repair and proliferation.
  • Reduced Inflammation and Oxidative Stress: TBI often causes harmful inflammatory and oxidative stress responses. RLT has been demonstrated to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, making it potentially beneficial for TBI recovery.
  • Neuroprotection and Neurogenesis: There is evidence to suggest that RLT may aid in protecting existing neurons from damage and stimulate the creation of new neurons (neurogenesis) and synapses, which could help improve cognitive functions affected by TBI.
  • Increased Blood Flow: RLT has been found to promote vasodilation, which increases blood flow to the areas of the brain affected by TBI. This increased blood flow can deliver more nutrients and oxygen necessary for healing and reduce the harmful effects of the injury.
  • Reduced Apoptosis: Apoptosis is programmed cell death, and it can be an adverse effect of TBI as it might lead to the death of potentially recoverable cells. RLT has been shown to reduce apoptosis in some situations.
  • Upregulation of Beneficial Biochemical Processes: Studies indicate that RLT may help upregulate various beneficial biochemical processes such as the release of growth factors, which aid in the repair and recovery process.

Ultimately, these benefits of red light therapy can help support treatments for a number of conditions, from skin health, to moderating mood and anxiety.

Red Light Therapy for the Brain: How Many Sessions?

Red light treatment for the brain faces a major challenge in allowing enough light to pass through the skull. To create personalized treatment plans, three factors affecting light absorption are considered for each patient:

  • Frequency: The therapy requires multiple sessions spread over time. Optimal and long-lasting results are achieved with 10 to 20-minute sessions, up to four times a week.
  • Light Intensity: The light used in PBM treatment usually has low intensity, but it can be adjusted for deeper penetration. Pulsed wave (PW) uses higher intensity in short bursts, while continuous wave (CW) employs lower intensity over a longer period.
  • Wavelength: Different wavelengths are used to saturate muscle, tissue, and bone effectively. Common wavelengths in photobiomodulation therapy are 633 nm, 810 nm, and 940 nm. Shorter wavelengths are suitable for skin and shallow areas, while longer wavelengths penetrate deeper into the body.

Each patient’s treatment varies based on their medical history and the specific issue being addressed. The most effective approach involves a device customized to suit each patient’s needs.

Red Light Therapy and TBI: Recent Research

However, there are benefits to using photobiomodulation therapy for TBI. The effects of PBMT on the body immediately after a TBI as well as its efficacy as a treatment for long-lasting symptoms such as headaches, sleep disturbances, depression, impaired memory, and lack of attention have been researched. Here’s a look at some relevant clinical research studies:

PBM Therapy for TBI and Stroke

This study from researcher Michael R Hamblin explores the potential of PBM in treating TBI and stroke, highlighting its capacity to stimulate healing, enhance mitochondrial function, improve blood flow and oxygenation, reduce swelling, increase antioxidants, and decrease inflammation.

In healthy human volunteers, PBM has demonstrated increases in regional cerebral blood flow, tissue oxygenation, as well as improved memory, mood, and cognitive function.

The study calls for further investigation into PBM’s effectiveness in treating acute stroke, as clinical trials have yielded mixed results. Factors such as light penetration, timing of PBM post-stroke, stroke severity, and targeted brain areas may influence PBM’s effectiveness.

PBM for Concussion

The research revolves around a case study of a 23-year-old professional hockey player with a history of concussions, demonstrating that 8-week self-administered PBM treatment led to improved brain volumes, functional connectivity, cerebral perfusion, and neuropsychological test scores.

The subject used commercially available PBM devices emitting 810-nm light pulsing at 10 or 40 Hz, aimed at the brain’s default mode network (DMN). While promising, the results are based on a single case and call for broader controlled studies to verify the effectiveness of PBM in TBI treatment.

Treating Chronic, Mild TBI
The pilot study investigates the cognitive benefits of applying red and near-infrared (NIR) light-emitting diodes (LED) to the scalp in 11 patients with chronic, mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI). The treatment lasted for 18 outpatient sessions over 6 weeks.

Findings indicate significant improvements over time in cognitive performance measures such as the Stroop test for Executive Function, California Verbal Learning Test (CVLT)-II, with patients also reporting better sleep and fewer PTSD symptoms.

The study concludes that placebo-controlled studies are needed and emphasizes the role of LED therapy in improving mitochondrial function and increasing regional cerebral blood flow.

Social Function and Mood
LED treatment has been shown in clinical research with TBI patients to increase self-awareness, self-regulation in social function, and sleep quality. Studies on the use of NIR laser therapy on TBI patients revealed improvements in mood and cognition as well as a decrease in the frequency of headaches

Photobiomodulation and the Brain: Different Applications

There is growing interest in the potential of PBM for treating various neurological and neurodegenerative conditions due to its ability to penetrate body tissues and stimulate cellular recovery. The therapy is thought to work by increasing cellular energy production, reducing oxidative stress, and promoting neurogenesis and synaptogenesis.

Here are some conditions where research has indicated potential benefits from red light therapy:

  • Alzheimer’s Disease: Some early-stage studies suggest that red light therapy could slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. It’s proposed that PBM may mitigate some Alzheimer’s symptoms by reducing brain inflammation, clearing amyloid-beta plaques, and improving cognitive function.
  • Parkinson’s Disease: Animal studies and preliminary human trials have suggested that PBM could potentially slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease by protecting neurons from degeneration, enhancing mitochondrial function, and reducing inflammation.
  • Stroke: There are indications that red light therapy may assist stroke recovery by improving brain metabolism, reducing the volume of the infarct, and accelerating neuroregeneration.
  • Depression and Anxiety: PBM may also be beneficial in managing mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. It’s proposed that PBM may exert these effects by increasing cerebral blood flow and promoting neurogenesis, although research in this area is still emerging.
  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS): Early research has shown that PBM may help in managing symptoms of MS by reducing inflammation, alleviating fatigue, and improving quality of life.

Another advantage of PBM: It may also help to preserve normal brain function. Some research suggestions that regular PBM therapy can help to sustain or even improve cognitive performance.

According to one study, young, healthy volunteers had improved prefrontal rule-based learning, sustained attention, and short-term memory. In another study, the same team discovered that PBMT enhanced cerebral oxygenation and brain hemodynamic processes required for higher-order cognitive functioning.

Wrapping Up

Red light therapy has the potential to be a game-changer for traumatic brain injury cases, helping to reduce a variety of devastating symptoms. It is important to understand the finer details before beginning treatment, as results will vary based on a patient’s individual needs and medical history.

That being said, many people have found it helpful in their recovery process, and this type of therapy shows much promise as we continue to learn more about its effectiveness.

The research conducted on red light therapy for TBI so far suggests that there are some unique benefits to red light therapy that make it an attractive option for those looking for alternative treatments for traumatic brain injury.

Ready to learn about the opportunities our photobiomodulation therapy devices can offer you? Explore our website today and be sure to reach out to us for further information!

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