Advocates claim that one modern therapeutic approach alleviates both physical and psychological pain: light therapy. Treatments may, however, be better for certain types of conditions than others. Individuals and organizations in the physical and mental health fields have promoted and successfully used light therapy in ailments ranging from inflammatory diseases to depression. Safe administration and a lack of adverse side effects are two primary benefits of this mode of therapy, although some researchers caution against overexposure to damaging ultraviolet rays.
Some physicians utilize light therapy for pain associated with inflammation. Irritation and swelling of body areas such as joints, skin, and the digestive tract could be tempered with light therapy. These treatments strengthen the circulation of blood and relax tight muscles, which makes it easier to move and slows the body’s defensive inflammatory processes.
One may consider light therapy for pain that is immediate, but light-based treatments for chronic pain and long-term healing may prove useful as well. Some color light therapies help restore damaged tissue. Targeting the light spectra that occur within the body — such as blue, red, or white — induces the production of natural restorative fluids and hormones that kill certain types of bacteria. Experts typically use a laser or a high-energy lamp for these methods. Such treatments have produced positive results in acne elimination, hair growth, the healing of scar tissue, and many other conditions.
Light therapy for physical pain is a growing method of treatment, but it may be equally effective in dealing with emotional pain. Psychologists have long recognized that exposure to different degrees of light can influence an individual’s emotional state. In fact, a type of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder correlates the generally darker winter months with a saddened state of mind. Researchers theorize that prolonged periods of darkness disrupt the body’s natural cycles, or circadian rhythms, resulting in subsequent disruptions in mood, sleeping patterns, and general energy levels. Thus, light therapy through the use of bright light boxes may help individuals restore their natural cycles and improve psychological well-being.
Professional studies support the effectiveness of light therapy for pain. For example, infrared light therapy has successfully treated both specific body aches and the generalized pain of fibromyalgia. In addition, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was one of the first major organizations to approve blue light therapy for certain conditions. Even neonatal physicians administer white-light therapy for the treatment of infant skin yellowing, or jaundice. Further, many psychologists, physical therapists, and doctors have embraced light therapy as a valid therapeutic method for their own treatment regimens.
One of the primary benefits of light therapy is its lack of major side effects. Treatments are generally non-invasive, which means that no surgical intervention is required. As such, recovery periods are minimized. Further, any of the side effects often associated with traditional medications — like headaches, nausea, or drowsiness — are often negligible. Sleep disorder treatments might induce side effects such as excitability and slight tremors, however. Extreme emotional agitation has been alleged in isolated cases as well, so any major mood swings should be immediately reported.
Ultraviolet (UV) light presents perhaps the greatest drawback of light therapies, as this type of light can damage skin, the body's ability to process vitamins, and even genes. Many practitioners eliminate this danger by using light-emitting devices that filter out UV light, or by practicing low-light laser therapy that targets specific areas of the body. Patients sensitive to light on the eyes or on the skin, and patients taking drugs that increase light sensitivity, should exercise particular caution when considering light therapies. Any courses of treatment should be discussed with a physician. Most supervised treatments are scheduled for particular times of day and for carefully controlled time durations to lessen the chances of negative effects.