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When time doesn’t heal all wounds, can infrared and red technology help?

August 11, 2021 5 min read

 Healing chronic wounds with infrared and red light therapy

 



People often take their skin for granted. Stop and think for a moment what skin deals with on a daily basis. The skin is the first line of defence, the barrier between each human and the outside world. It protects from the elements –the wind, sun and rain. It deals with chemicals, make-up, sunscreen and other products every day. It deals with frictions from clothes, shaving and exercise. The skin also protects from microbes. It allows for the sensations of touch, heat and cold. It helps to keep the human body warm. And that is just if the skin is intact! The skin also deals with cuts, scrapes, burns and bruises. There may also come a time where someone injures themselves more seriously or requires surgery which leaves the skin with open wounds. Generally this damage can heal up but for those who have a little more years behind them, healing can take more time and effort. If there was a simple and easy to use way to assist healing, it would be worth knowing about, right? 


Red light therapy is a well studied natural way to speed up the healing process of these burns, cuts, scrapes, wounds, surgery incisions and scars. When reviewing studies, it can be seen that it is a very safe and effective way to do this. As well as speeding up the healing process, it also helps to relieve pain and inflammation [2]. Light therapy has become popular with everyone from pro athletes to senior citizens with arthritis. 


So, how does red and infrared light therapy work for wound healing?


The healing process goes through four overlapping phases: stopping of bleeding known as haemostasis, inflammation and granulation tissue formation which leads to tissue repair [3]. The cells of damaged skin when exposed to natural light, lead to faster and stronger healing outcomes, with less pain. It does this due to the following benefits. 


  1. Increased circulation with formation of new capillaries - This leads to the damaged area receiving more of the oxygen and nutrients to start and maintain healing [1] [2]
  2. Promotes phagocytosis – this is the cleaning up of dead and damaged cells as well as bacteria to prevent infections [1] [2]
  3. Stimulates lymphatic system – Helps to clean up and detoxify the wounded area [1] [2]
  4. Promotes fibroblasts - Fibroblasts create collagen, elastin, and proteoglycans which are required for the last stage of the healing process [1] [2]
  5. Promotes collagen – an important protein involved in wound closure [1] [2]
  6. Promotes ATP - Provides energy to the wounded cells so they can function and heal themselves [1] [2]

What is the most effective length of time for treatment?


In a study using intentionally caused superficial scratches, the damaged tissues were exposed to both red and infrared light individually for different lengths of time. It was found that red light exposure resulted in increased cell growth and movement of beneficial cell components compared to the control. It was found that a treatment time of 5 to 10 min exposure led to the best results [1]. This can be done daily but even a few treatments a week will help.


Using Infrared and red light for healing chronic wounds


So, what about more serious wounds which are deeper or just being stubborn? Chronic non-healing wounds in older people or those with diabetes, can easily become infected and lead to amputation, or worse. Wounds which become infected, have reduced blood flow, and are oxygen-starved will then struggle to heal [1]. Non-healing wounds severely affect the quality of life of individuals due to decreased mobility and loss of productivity. They can also cause emotional stress and contribute to increased costs of healthcare [2].


The healing process becomes more complicated with conditions such as diabetes, venous stagnation, pressure ulcers, burns and immunosuppression as they can defer or slow the process of tissue repair [3]. This is generally due to prolonged inflammation, low oxygen supply, infection, compromised blood circulation, enhanced protein breakdown at the site, impaired expression of some growth factors and bacterial biofilms which allow microbes to isolate themselves from treatment. The fact that infrared light can penetrate deep into skin tissue injury allows non-pharmaceutical, non-invasive treatment to be carried out to encourage the healing processes. It is especially effective when conventional therapies have failed or there have been difficult side effects. The availability of such noninvasive, light-based healing therapies appears to be a good option with the threat of antibiotic resistance and the unwelcome side effects caused by pharmaceuticals. [3]


Ulcers are a type of chronic wound which are very difficult to heal. Infrared technology can help encourage the reduction of the size of ulcers to allow them to heal. A study was undertaken to compare standard medical treatment to infrared light treatment for  use in diabetic foot ulcers. It was found that the infrared technology was significantly more effective than using the standard dressing routine. The average reduction of ulcer size in the dressing group was 375mm but in the infrared group it was a reduction of 893mm!! [4] People also experienced a 49% higher ulcer healing rate with a faster time taken to get to a 90% closure [5]. The treatments were continued for 10 weeks or until their ulcer had healed. All wounds had closed in 9 out of 10 people in one study [6]. The results show that infrared light increases healing rate and shortens the healing time. This will positively affect the quality of life of older people with pressure or diabetic ulcers [5]. 


Strong skin that is intact and able to heal itself is vital for the survival of humans. Damage to the skin is an inevitability and generally the body is able to fix it easily. For those times that it might be struggling, infrared and red light technology is a safe and effective option to help encourage the natural healing ability.


References


[1] Myung-Sun Kim, Yong-Ick Cho, Min-Suk Kook, Sang-Chul Jung, Young-Hyun Hwang, Byung-Hoon Kim,Effect of 660 nm Light-Emitting Diode on the Wound Healing in Fibroblast-Like Cell Lines, International Journal of Photoenergy, October, 2015 https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ijp/2015/916838/


[2] Chaves M.E., Araújo A.R., Piancastelli A.C., Pinotti M.,Effects of low-power light therapy on wound healing: LASER x LED, Anais Brasileiros de Dermatologia Journal,August, 2014, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4148276/


[3] Anju Yadav, Asheesh Gupta,Noninvasive red and near-infrared wavelength-induced photobiomodulation: promoting impaired cutaneous wound healing

Photodermatology, Photoimmunology & Photomedicine Publication, January, 2017

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/phpp.12282


[4] SANGMA, Mimamaychet B. et al.Efficacy of low level infrared light therapy on wound healing in patients with chronic diabetic foot ulcers: a randomised control trial, International Surgery Journal, May, 2019,https://www.ijsurgery.com/index.php/isj/article/view/4172


[5] Schubert V. Effects of phototherapy on pressure ulcer healing in elderly patients after a falling trauma. A prospective, randomized, controlled study. Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed. 2001 Feb https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11169174/


[6] Landau Z, Migdal M, Lipovsky A, Lubart R. Visible light-induced healing of diabetic or venous foot ulcers: a placebo-controlled double-blind study. Photomed Laser Surg. 2011 Jun; 

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21214497/#