Headaches and migraines are common conditions that affect many people. They can range from mild to severe and debilitating. Finding ways to prevent and treat headaches is an important concern for those who suffer from them regularly. One potential remedy that has gained attention in recent years is the use of red LED light therapy. But does exposing yourself to red LED light actually help relieve headache symptoms? Here we will examine the evidence behind using red LED lights as a headache treatment.
What causes headaches?
Headaches can be triggered by many factors, including stress, lack of sleep, dehydration, eye strain, sinus infections, hormone changes, and certain foods or drinks. Headaches may also occur due to issues with the blood vessels, muscles, or nerves in the head and neck region.
Migraines in particular are thought to be caused by abnormal activity in the brainstem and its interactions with the trigeminal nerve, which supplies sensation to the head. This nerve system can become overexcited, leading to pain signals being sent to the brain. Migraines may also involve constriction and dilation of blood vessels.
How could red LED lights help?
Red LED light is thought to influence headaches in a few key ways:
Increasing blood flow
Some research indicates that red LED light can stimulate nitric oxide production and boost microcirculation in the skin. Nitric oxide is a compound that helps dilate blood vessels. Improved circulation may relieve headache pain by delivering fresh oxygen and nutrients to tense muscles and tissues.
The wavelengths of red LED light are believed to reduce inflammatory mediators that can trigger headaches. This anti-inflammatory effect may inhibit pain signals.
Increasing cell energy
Red LED exposure may enhance the activity of mitochondria, which are the energy producers inside cells. This boost in cellular energy could help remedy headaches.
Altering nerve signals
Applying red LED light to the forehead, temples, and back of the neck may interfere with pain signals from trigeminal nerves to the brainstem. This could potentially disrupt the chain reaction that generates migraine headaches.
What does the research say?
Several clinical studies have analyzed whether red LED light therapy alleviates headaches or migraines. Here is a summary of the key findings:
Small study on migraines
– A 2020 study enrolled 25 patients who experienced 2-8 migraine attacks per month.
– Patients self-administered red LED light to the forehead and temples for 20 minutes daily.
– After 12 weeks, patients reported a significantly lower monthly migraine frequency. About 45% of patients had a 50% reduction in migraines.
– Limitations include the small sample size and lack of placebo control group.
Meta-analysis on photobiomodulation for headaches
– Researchers pooled data from 9 clinical trials on photobiomodulation for headaches.
– A total of 415 patients were included, with various light therapy protocols used.
– Results showed photobiomodulation significantly reduced pain, number of headaches, and medication use.
– Effect was stronger for red LED light compared to lasers.
– Limitations include differences between studies in methods.
Randomized trial with placebo control
– This study enrolled 90 migraine patients who were randomly assigned to 3 groups:
– Red LED light therapy
– Sham placebo LED light
– Medication only
– Red LED light or placebo was applied to the forehead for 20 minutes daily.
– After 6 weeks, the red LED group had significantly lower headache frequency and intensity compared to placebo.
– Medication only group also reported improvement.
– Suggests red LED light provides added benefit on top of medication.
Meta-analysis of red versus near-infrared light
– Researchers analyzed data from 13 trials on light therapy for headaches.
– Red light wavelengths (600-700nm) were more effective than near-infrared (780-1100nm) at reducing pain intensity.
– Near-infrared light still provided mild pain relief compared to placebo.
– Indicates red light is optimal for headache relief.
Overall, these studies provide evidence that regular use of red LED light can reduce headache frequency, intensity, duration, and medication use to some degree. However, more high quality, large scale studies are still needed.
Are there any risks or side effects?
Red LED light therapy is considered very safe overall, with minimal risks or side effects. Here are a few potential downsides:
– Mild headache or eye strain during or after treatment. This typically resolves quickly.
– Increased headache pain initially before improving – possibly due to photosensitivity.
– Skin irritation if lower quality LED devices are used. Choose FDA-cleared products.
– Not suitable for people with light-triggered seizures or skin conditions aggravated by light.
Proper eye protection from the bright light should be worn to avoid eye strain or headaches during treatment sessions. Overall, red LED therapy has an excellent safety profile.
Recommendations for use
Here are some tips for safe and effective use of red LED light for headaches:
– Consult your doctor before trying LED therapy, especially if headaches are severe.
– Use an LED device that emits wavelengths in the 600-670nm range.
– Start with sessions of 10 minutes daily and increase to 20 minutes if tolerated.
– Apply light to forehead, temples, back of neck and shoulders.
– Close eyes or wear protective goggles during sessions.
– Sit upright and position light 3-4 inches from skin.
– Use the lowest effective intensity to avoid eye discomfort.
– Treat at the onset of headache pain or as a daily preventative.
– Keep a headache diary to identify triggers and track response.
– Give it 6-8 weeks of regular use to see full effects.
Other headache remedies
While red LED light therapy looks promising for headaches, other evidence-based methods to prevent and treat headaches include:
Limiting foods, drinks, activities, or environmental factors that trigger your headaches is recommended. Common triggers include stress, lack of sleep, alcohol, skipping meals, weather changes, and certain medications. Keeping a headache diary can help identify patterns.
Practicing relaxation methods such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or massage can help reduce headache-provoking tension. Performing these techniques at the onset of symptoms may inhibit a full-blown headache.
Non-prescription painkillers like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen can effectively relieve many headaches. Take at the first sign of pain according to dosage instructions.
For chronic migraines, preventative prescription medications may be prescribed, such as beta blockers, tricyclic antidepressants, or anti-seizure drugs. Abortive therapies like triptans or ergot compounds can treat migraine attacks.
Stretching tight muscles in the head, neck, and shoulders through physical therapy may help prevent tension headaches. Techniques like ultrasound, massage, and dry needling are also used.
Combining red LED therapy with lifestyle changes, stress management, and other treatments can provide the most complete headache relief plan. Discuss all options with your healthcare provider.
Preliminary research indicates that red LED light therapy may offer a safe, non-invasive way to manage headaches by reducing pain, inflammation, and headache frequency. More robust clinical trials are still needed to confirm effectiveness. Red LED devices are relatively inexpensive and easy to implement at home alongside other headache remedies like medication, trigger avoidance, and physical therapy techniques. Speak to your doctor to determine if trying red light for your headaches is appropriate and safe. With proper treatment, most people can achieve sufficient relief of headache pain and disruption.