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What Is Photobiomodulation Therapy? An Introduction

Although it offers numerous health benefits, photobiomodulation therapy doesn’t yet have wide appeal. A common question we hear at tradeshows and in clinics is:

What is photobiomodulation therapy?

Here’s a simple definition: PBM therapy is a photochemical reaction where light energy is absorbed by the body to promote cell function and health. This definition is greatly simplified. However, the basic idea is clear.

PBM therapy provides localized or whole-body treatments that deliver light of a certain frequency and intensity to the body. This energy is then absorbed, and it triggers a cellular reaction. Ultimately, PBM has numerous benefits, from pain relief, to skin rejuvenation.

Interested in what it is and how it works? This guide covers everything you need to know about photobiomodulation therapy.

A Quick Overview: PBM Therapy

woman in photobiomodulation red light bed - what is photobiomodulation guide

Photobiomodulation therapy (PBM) works by utilizing specific wavelengths of light (typically red and near-infrared light) to interact with cells and tissues in the body. During a PBM session, a red light therapy device (typically a light mat, a bed, or a lamp) directs light energy at the body.

When this light is absorbed by the body, a physiological reaction happens at the cellular level. This reaction triggers a variety of changes in the body, which offer a number of health benefits. Here’s a simplified overview of how PBM light therapy works:

  1. Increased Cellular Energy Production: The absorbed light energy stimulates the activity of cytochrome c oxidase, an enzyme involved in cellular respiration. This process enhances the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy currency of cells. The increased ATP levels provide cells with more energy to perform their functions efficiently.
  2. Improved Blood Circulation: PBM has been shown to enhance blood flow by causing the release of nitric oxide, a vasodilator. This widening of blood vessels improves oxygen and nutrient delivery to the treated area, supporting tissue healing and reducing inflammation.
  3. Reduced Inflammation: PBM helps modulate the immune response, leading to a reduction in inflammatory markers such as cytokines. This anti-inflammatory effect can help alleviate pain and swelling associated with various conditions.
  4. Tissue Repair and Regeneration: PBM promotes cellular proliferation and migration, encouraging tissue repair and regeneration. It stimulates fibroblasts, which are responsible for producing collagen, a key component of connective tissues. This collagen synthesis aids in wound healing, reduces scar formation, and enhances tissue strength and elasticity.
  5. Neuroprotection and Neuromodulation: PBM has demonstrated neuroprotective effects by promoting neuronal survival and function. It can also influence neurotransmitter release and signaling pathways, potentially benefiting conditions related to the central nervous system. See a study to learn about using photobiomodulation to treat cognitive impairment.

It’s important to note that the specific parameters of PBM, including the light intensity, wavelength, duration, and frequency of treatment, can vary depending on the condition being treated. Additionally, the exact mechanisms and pathways involved in PBM are still being studied, and research continues to uncover new insights into its therapeutic effects.

PBM Therapy: Approach

Photobiomodulation therapy is conducted using devices that emit light at specific wavelengths. Generally, these are targeted mats or whole-body PBM chambers. Regardless of the device, here’s a general approach to PBM:

  • Choice of Device: PBM mats are commonly used to target specific areas, like our PBM Breast Irradiator Map, while photobiomodulation therapy beds tend to offer benefits to the entire body.
  • Treatment Area: The area to be treated is typically exposed directly to the light. This can range from a broad area (for instance, if treating muscle pain or skin conditions) to a very specific point (as in acupuncture-style treatments). Handheld devices may be used for small areas.
  • Dosage: One of the key factors is the dosage, which is usually measured in joules (J). This depends on several factors, including the power of the light source, the distance from the light source to the skin, the wavelength of the light, the size of the area being treated, and the duration of exposure.
  • Duration and Frequency: The duration of the light exposure per treatment and the frequency of red light treatments will depend on the specific condition being treated. Treatments might last from a few minutes to 20 minutes or more and could be repeated several times a week.

Use Cases for PBM Therapy

infographic - uses of photobiomodulation therapy

You can read more about the benefits of PBM therapy and its use cases. However, generally, clinical tests have shown a variety of uses for PBM.

This therapy has been shown to reduce inflammation, and also for pain management, skin care, and sports performance. PBM treatments are used to increase the speed, relieve pain, quality, and tensile strength of tissue repair and resolve inflammation. Some of the key benefits of PBM include:

The following are some of the significant reasons for recognizing photobiomodulation (PBM) therapy and its advantages:

  • Chronic Pain: Photobiomodulation therapy may help reduce chronic pain by stimulating cellular activity and increasing blood flow, leading to improved tissue repair and decreased inflammation.
  • Wound Healing: The therapy can accelerate wound healing by promoting cell proliferation, reducing inflammation, and enhancing collagen synthesis.
  • Arthritis: Photobiomodulation therapy may alleviate joint pain and stiffness associated with arthritis by reducing inflammation and promoting tissue regeneration.
  • Musculoskeletal Injuries: It can aid in the recovery from musculoskeletal injuries by promoting tissue repair, reducing inflammation, and relieving pain.
  • Hair Loss: The therapy has been used to stimulate hair growth by increasing blood flow to hair follicles and promoting cellular activity.
  • Neurological Disorders: Photobiomodulation therapy has shown promise in conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and stroke recovery by promoting neuronal function and reducing inflammation.
  • Depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): It may help alleviate symptoms of depression and SAD by stimulating the release of endorphins and improving mood. Red light therapy has also been shown to help improve ADHD.
  • Acne: The therapy can improve acne symptoms by reducing inflammation and promoting tissue repair.
  • Dental Pain and Inflammation: Photobiomodulation therapy may help reduce dental pain and inflammation after dental procedures or conditions like temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder.
  • Skin Rejuvenation: It can promote collagen synthesis, improve skin elasticity, and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It may also help treat skin conditions like psoriasis.
  • Anti-Aging: Photobiomodulation may have an anti-aging effect, as it helps to slow cellular dysfunction and reduce oxidative stress, which causes a number of degenerative diseases and hastens aging.
  • Improved Sleep – A growing body of research suggests red light therapy helps with sleep. Specifically, it can help regulate melatonin and circadian rhythms, leading to deeper sleep.

Types of PBM Devices: Mats and Chambers

Red light therapy mats, or PBM mats, and whole-body PBM light therapy beds are the two most common types of photobiomodulation therapy devices. Ultimately, both types differ in terms of size, coverage, usage, and cost. Here’s a breakdown of the differences:

Size and Coverage:

  • PBM Mats: These are typically smaller and designed for targeted treatment. They might be used to treat specific areas of the body, like our red light therapy breast pad, or other localized areas. Because of their size, they usually don’t provide whole-body treatment in one session. Our breast mat, for example, is specifically designed for using photobiomodulation for breast cancer patients.
  • Whole-Body PBM: These are larger devices designed to deliver photobiomodulation therapy to the entire body at once. They look somewhat like a tanning bed, but instead of emitting harmful UV rays, they emit therapeutic light in the red and near-infrared spectrum.

Usage:

  • PBM Mats: Due to their portable and compact size, they can be used at home or in a professional setting. Some mats are flexible and can be wrapped around a body part.
  • Whole-Body PBM: These are generally found in professional settings like clinics or wellness centers, although some high-end models may be purchased for home use. Because of their size, they require more space and aren’t easily moved.

Cost:

  • PBM Mats: These are generally less expensive than whole body beds due to their smaller size and simpler design.
  • Whole-Body PBM: These are typically more costly because they are larger, cover the whole body, and often have more advanced features.

Treatment Time:

  • PBM Mats: Since mats usually target specific areas, treatment times might be shorter. However, if you’re using the mat to treat multiple areas in one session, total treatment time could add up.
  • Whole-Body PBM: These can treat the whole body at once, potentially offering a time-efficient solution for people who want full-body treatment.

Remember, it’s crucial to consult with a healthcare professional before starting photobiomodulation therapy to ensure it’s suitable for your specific needs and conditions.

Learn More About PBM Therapy 

Hue Light USA offers numerous resources to learn about PBM and BAHI therapy. To learn more about BAHI, see our guides:

You can also read the latest case studies and our guide to the Nogier frequencies in photobiomodulation for more information.

FAQs

Is photobiomodulation therapy effective?

There have been contrasting reports on the effectiveness of photobiomodulation therapy treatment in the management of muscular rehabilitation and performance. According to some studies, it has been concluded that this therapy reduces injury time, reduces recovery time between exercise sessions, muscle damage, fatigue, and improves sleep quality.

How often can low level laser therapy (LLLT) or Photobiomodulation (PBM) therapy be used?

If you want to get a wound or infection treated, it is recommended that you receive daily therapy for a few days in a row or until you notice improvement. In the case of chronic conditions like arthritis, it is recommended to take this therapy once a week or three times a week if the situation gets serious.

How does PBM therapy help decrease swelling?

The effects of this therapy are photochemical, similar to the photosynthesis process in plants. When the correct frequency, power, and application time are used, its light reduces oxidative stress and helps increase ATP. This helps in improving cell metabolism and reducing inflammation, thereby decreasing swelling problems.

Does photobiomodulation therapy help with weight loss? 

According to several studies, healthy men and women have found that the innovative PBM therapy has helped with safe and significant loss in circumference measurements of specifically targeted regions, which were measured over repeated treatments that followed specific protocols.

How long does it take for photobiomodulation therapy to work?

It might take several light therapy chamber treatments for the results to work and become evident. It requires anywhere between 8 to 30 sessions for this treatment to be fully effective, while some patients might find it necessary to undergo this treatment at least 2 to 4 times every week. Several people who have opted for this treatment have not experienced any adverse effects. Some of them have experienced temporary lightheadedness from vasodilation, or the widening of blood vessels, which is a vital part of increased circulation. It is a non-invasive treatment with no downtime. After taking this therapy, a person can follow their routine as usual. There are some treatments, like cold therapy, which require multiple applications each day to prove their effectiveness.

Disclaimer: The information provided here is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as a direct reference to any products offered by Hue Light USA or any specific brand. We do not claim that our products can achieve the effects or benefits discussed in this content. This information should not be interpreted as medical advice or as an endorsement of any specific product or treatment. We encourage readers to conduct their own research and consult with a qualified healthcare professional before making any decisions regarding their health or wellness regimen.

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