Heat and Light Therapy
There are many different types of heat therapy and light therapy on the market today. How do you know which one is right for you and how do they differ. There are the basic heat therapies we are all familiar with. Many of us have used saunas, heating pads, herbal hot and cold packs and hot water bottles. They certainly came in handy especially when we overdo it exercising or working in the yard. It’s no secret that warmth promotes relaxation and allows us to feel better. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy a warm summer’s day!
Today, we have many more heat therapies to choose from. We have our familiar products along with red light therapy, near infrared therapy and far infrared therapy products. Keep in mind, many forms of light therapies are also forms of heat therapy. These therapies are most known as infrared heat therapy which is why I am discussing them here.
Heat therapy, often referred to as thermotherapy has been used for centuries. It is widely used today for promoting overall comfort and relieving minor aches and pains. When we use heat therapy it helps our body by promoting blood flow. Warming up our blood vessels helps them dilate bringing increased circulation, nutrients and oxygen to the area and our cells. Better blood flow helps our body heal faster. Heat also stimulates our metabolism giving the body more energy which further assists in the body’s healing process.
Heat therapy works great in helping to relieve lower back pain, muscle soreness, spasms, stress and tension. When our muscles relax it also allows us to become more flexible, absorb our nutrients better and increases our energy. All of these things help take the edge off of our discomfort. When we are more comfortable we feel less stressed. So there is no doubt that warmth helps improve how we feel!
Light and Infrared Therapy
Light Therapy often refers to Red Light, Near Infrared and Far Infrared Therapy. These forms of light are part of the electromagnetic spectrum of light. The electromagnetic spectrum has 7 types of waves. These waves are Radio Waves, Microwaves, Infrared Waves which are invisible, Visible Light Rays, Ultraviolet Light Rays, X-Rays, and Gamma Rays which include nuclear energy. Red light therapy makes up part of the visible spectrum. Near, mid and far infrared make up the invisible or infrared spectrum. Light found on the electromagnetic spectrum is typically measured as a wavelength or in nanometers and microns depending on who is discussing them.
Near and far infrared found on the infrared segment offers benefits very similar to heat therapy. Our body perceives these light rays as heat. Unlike topical heat, infrared interacts with the body in a very different way. The longer the wavelength, the deeper the light penetrates into our cells. This gives our cells the energy they need to promote healing and to relieve pain.
I explain the difference this way. Topical heat is a product that uses an actual heat source. Topical heat is placed on top of the body providing warmth which travels into the body. Near and far Infrared light are rays of light. These light rays interact with the receptors of the cells in the body activating them to go to work. As I like to say, infrared goes into our body and warms our body from the inside out. Infrared therapy is also referred to as photobiomodulation or phototherapy. Remember, even though these therapies have similar benefits, they interact differently with the body.
Red Light Therapy
The term “Red light therapy” is sometimes used to describe near infrared therapy. This can be confusing because these two therapies are not the same thing. The light rays found throughout the infrared segment are not able to be seen by the human eye. Red light therapy is found on the far end of the visible spectrum in a range of about 600 to 700 nm and can be seen. The 600 to 700 nm range is located just before the of the infrared range on the spectrum. Red light therapy generally uses Light Emitting Diodes or LEDs to deliver its intense light. According to Web MD, Red Light Therapy has been shown to be beneficial for dementia patients with their memories, sleep and mood (less anger). It has also been found to help with certain types of dental pain, osteoarthritis, tendinitis and signs of skin aging including wrinkles.
Red light therapy is widely used in salons and spas for its broad range of skin rejuvenation benefits. This therapy works great for treating the surface of the skin. Red light therapy helps to improve the appearance of the skin, boosts collagen, and reduces wrinkle, scarring and acne. When our body is exposed to this concentrated wavelength of light, the powerhouse of our cells (ATP) is energized. This allows the benefits to go beyond those benefits provided by topical heat. Many Red light therapy products also include the near infrared spectrum of light giving those products more benefits and more penetration.
Infrared Heat Therapy
Infrared therapy encompasses near, mid, and far infrared therapy. The sections are what makes up the infrared section on the electromagnetic spectrum. Their range is from approximately 700 to 1,000 nm. Near Infrared has the shortest wavelength, then comes mid infrared and then far infrared. Remember the power of infrared therapy is the interaction with the body, the depth of penetration, and the body’s ability to absorb the rays.
When we are outside on a sunny day, it is the infrared light that makes us feel warm. When a cloud comes and blocks the sun’s ray we often become chilled. Along with this interaction, each wavelength within the infrared segment offers a different depth of penetration and somewhat different benefit.
Infrared rays can penetrate the body from 2 to 5 cm. Infrared therapy interacts with the body through the tissue, then to the energy center of our cells. It also assists the body with the production of nitric oxide. The full cellular mechanism on how infrared therapy works continues to be studied and is still somewhat puzzling.
Near Infrared Therapy
Near infrared therapy often merges with Red Light Therapy which is why it was difficult to determine which therapy offers which benefits. It is also why they are usually combined. When you combine the two, you have a powerhouse for skin rejuvenation treatments. Near Infrared doesn’t penetrate the body as deep as far infrared therapy. However, near infrared therapy is very much a hot topic because of its benefits for the anti-inflammatory process.
Near infrared therapy is beneficial for sprains; bone fractures and can speed up the time it takes for wounds to heal. Animal studies are also being done using near infrared therapy for brain injuries, strokes and traumas. If you have aches and pains or need to heal a wound near infrared is definitely going to be able to tackle it. If you want to focus on skin rejuvenation, use red light therapy coupled with near infrared therapy for best results.
Far Infrared Therapy
Far infrared therapy has been studied for over 30 years in China and Japan. It offers all the benefits of near infrared therapy as well as a much deeper depth of penetration. Far infrared therapy offers the deepest reaching ability in relation to our body’s tissue and cells. It has the ability to promote a host of reactions that offer relief for many conditions. I think that is why there are so many products on the market offering far infrared therapy. Not only are there so many products, the products range from saunas, portable domes, heating pads and clothing.
Far infrared therapy is used to relieve acute and chronic pain, including Fibromyalgia. It also promotes blood flow to areas where there seems to be a shortage and improves circulation to the skin. It has been studied and helps the body fight off chronic inflammation, helping to protect against oxidative stress. Far Infrared Therapy is amazing. Its full benefits are still being discovered. For myself, Far Infrared Therapy helps me in managing my chronic pain as well as deep bone pain I have lived with for years.
In case you are wondering how long should you should apply heat to an area. I always recommend at least 20-30 minutes giving your body time do all the things it naturally does. You also need to Remember, that heat should not be used on a fresh injury or an infection. Both of these usually result in inflammation and when you have inflammation it’s time to use R.I.C.E – Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevate!