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Notice: The NSCA website is scheduled to undergo system maintenance from 12:00 AM - 2:30 AM EST. During this time, there may be short service interruptions across the site and some parts of the site may not be accessible. We apologize for any inconvenience while we work to improve the website experience and security.

The Evolution of Red and Infrared Light Therapy in Modern Times

by Juan Gonzalez, PhD, CSCS, Yuliana Sanchez-Trinidad, and Keyla Olmeda
NSCA Coach June 2024
Vol 11, Issue 1

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The aim of this article is to share with strength and conditioning coaches how red light therapy has evolved from its early beginnings to contemporary times, as well as to address the many benefits for athletes.

Introduction

The aim of this article is to share with strength and conditioning coaches how red light therapy has evolved from its early beginnings to contemporary times, as well as to address the many benefits for athletes. In recent years, red light therapy, or photobiomodulation (PBM) as it is now referred to, has received much attention in terms of its anti-inflammatory effects and ability to enhance athletic performance (14). Red light therapy can be described as utilizing red or near-infrared (NIR) light to stimulate, heal, or regenerate damaged tissue as well as increase the quantity of antioxidants (14). The reasoning behind using PBM for enhancing sports performance is due to the stimulation of mitochondrial activity that is triggered after red or near-infrared light exposure on tissue, which results in a vigorous increase of the source of energy needed for muscle work, known as adenosine triphosphate (ATP) (14).

Historically, PBM was initially utilized to prevent muscle damage and fatigue with animal models, specifically rats (14). These models were carried out by irradiating the skeletal muscles with PBM before a bout of intense exercise followed by an assessment of creatine kinase (CK) levels to measure the extent of muscle damage (14). Another experimental study, which similarly utilized animal models, found that PBM was able to enhance defenses against oxidative stress, inhibit inflammation, and reduce CK activity (14). These early findings with animal models were vital in order to prove the effectiveness of PBM and begin clinical trials for the prevention of muscle damage, improvement of muscle performance, and enhancement of exercise recovery in humans (14).

Modern PBM has the merit of becoming a valuable tool for strength and conditioning coaches. Research shows that sleep, which is an important factor in the process of recovery and preventing overtraining syndrome, can be enhanced with PBM therapy (30,38). Furthermore, increased skeletal muscle performance and an improved defense against damage to skeletal muscle tissue have been associated with PBM therapy (31). Research also suggests that strength training with PBM could be superior to strength training alone (16). These are but a few of the numerous benefits that red light therapy has to offer.

This article originally appeared in NSCA Coach, a quarterly publication for NSCA Members that provides valuable takeaways for every level of strength and conditioning coach. You can find scientifically based articles specific to a wide variety of your athletes’ needs with Nutrition, Programming, and Youth columns. Read more articles from NSCA Coach »

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Juan Gonzalez, PhD, CSCS

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Juan Gonzalez is an Associate Professor within the Department of Health and Human Performance and the College of Health Professions at the University ...

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