Recovering Your Body: An Athlete’s Guide to Red Light Therapy

Male athlete in the gym with a towel on his head after a workout.

*Updated 6/10/2020

Many athletes are discovering the benefits of red light therapy and infrared light therapy. This non-invasive modality can soothe aching muscles, aid recovery from sports injuries, and improve general wellness. Light therapy, also referred to as red light or infrared light therapy, involves directing specific wavelengths of light, from an LED light source, to a body part. The light penetrates the skin to jumpstart tissue recovery. With the help of over-the-counter red LED devices, users can treat not only pain, but other conditions, all from the comfort of their own homes. Learn how to use red light therapy for sports injuries, muscle soreness and other issues that plague athletes.

How Does Red Light Therapy Work for Treating Pain?

Red light therapy works by increasing blood flow and stimulating cell regeneration. Essentially, these treatments help the mitochondria in muscular cells complete their respiration cycle more efficiently, which makes the muscles suffer less fatigue. Improving the mitochondrial respiration cycle leads to better activation and formation of the muscle stem cells that eventually develop into healthy muscle tissue. This means that athletes who use red light therapy on their muscles can experience long-lasting healthy muscle tissue as a result.

Red light therapy also reduces inflammation that damages cells and makes muscles sore. Light therapy has also been shown to help grow muscles, making it not only a workout recovery asset, but also a boost to make your workouts more effective.

Benefits of Light Therapy for Athletes

A study published in the journal Laser Therapy followed a group of university athletes and measured the time it took them to return to play (RTP) following a sports injury. Sixty-five of them used LED light therapy to treat their injuries. These subjects experienced a mean RTP time of 9.6 days, compared with the mean anticipated RTP of 19.23 days. The researchers concluded, “LED phototherapy significantly and safely reduced the RTP in dedicated university athletes over a wide range of injuries with no adverse events.”

How to Use Light Therapy as an Athlete

To begin with you’ll need a red or infrared light therapy device. You can use the device as part of routine workouts or playing, or to treat certain injuries that occur on the field or court or in the gym. Always consult with your physician before starting a new pain management or treatment regimen.

Light Therapy Before and After a Workout

As mentioned before, light therapy affects cell regeneration and mitochondrial respiration. Red and infrared light can reach deep into joints and tissues, increasing circulation, oxygenation, cellular repair, and reproduction. Many athletes who use light therapy before or after working out experience less muscle soreness, faster post-workout recovery and better muscle tone. A number of research studies, including in J Biophotonics, have looked at the use of light therapy before or after working out, showing it beneficial for both.

Common Sports Injuries to Treat with Red Light Therapy

Sports injuries typically fall into two categories: acute injuries or overuse injuries. Either type can cause intense pain and require an athlete to restrict their activity. Lost training time means reduced performance. The Laser Therapy study mentioned above covered injuries in both categories, including sprains, strains, ligament damage, tendonitis and contusions. Light therapy has also been shown to reduce neck pain, which is common not only for athletes but for “desk jockeys” as well.

Best Red Light Therapy Devices for Athletes

The best light therapy products for athletes have a high powered, LED light source that uses red or infrared wavelengths or, ideally, a combination of the two. Each wavelength penetrates to a different depth within the body. Look for devices that are FDA-cleared and always use them according to the directions. Athletes who use light therapy typically experience few, if any, side effects. How often you should use light therapy depends on your device, body, and the recommendations of your physician. However, the risks of overuse are low.

When you’re ready to try red or infrared light therapy devices, you have quite a few options available from dpl®. Choose your device according to the area of the body you wish to treat, whether you want to carry the device with you to the locker room or gym, and how the device fits your budget.

Handheld Devices

The dpl® Nuve makes an excellent, affordable choice. It is handheld so it’s easy to maneuver and can treat a large area. Treat anything from a pulled hamstring to a sore rotator cuff.

Compression Wraps and Pillows

A convenient option for sore muscles in the arms or legs is the dpl® Compression Wrap. To treat a larger area, like a sore or pulled back, try the dpl® Flex Pad. For neck pain specifically, try the dpl® neck pillow.

Mitts and Slippers

You can even get home light therapy devices especially to treat aches and pains of the hands and feet. Try the dpl® Flex Mitt or the dpl® Wrist Wrap, which is effective for tendonitis.

Runners and others who spend a lot of time on their feet, suffering from issues like plantar fasciitis, may benefit from slippers, such as the dpl® Slipper.

More dpl® Products for Athletes

Red light and infrared light therapy can provide pain relief benefits to anyone, but especially athletes. Using light therapy treatments in combination with your current workout regimen could help you see better results and less muscle soreness overall. Explore our full selection of pain relief products to find the right treatment device for your active lifestyle.

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