If you suffer from chronic or acute pain, you may have heard about the benefits of photobiomodulation – using light to reduce pain and accelerate healing. But should you use red light or green light therapy for optimal pain relief? Here’s an in-depth comparison of the evidence on using these two colors of light to treat pain.
First, it’s helpful to understand how light therapy can reduce pain in the first place. Red and near-infrared light delivered at specific wavelengths and intensities can penetrate several centimeters into the body’s tissues.
Once absorbed in the mitochondria of cells, light therapy increases adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production. This leads to a cascade of positive effects:
These physiological changes relieve pain through multiple mechanisms. Light therapy can thereby reduce acute and chronic joint, muscle, nerve and inflammatory pain. It’s a safe, non-invasive alternative to medications and injections.
Now let’s compare the pain relief effects of delivering different colors of visible light.
Red light therapy (600-700nm) has the most research backing its use for pain management. Over 180 human clinical trials have found red light effectively reduces chronic joint pain, osteoarthritis, low back pain, neck pain, and many other pain conditions.
For example, a 2014 meta-analysis looked at red light therapy studies on knee osteoarthritis pain. It concluded red light significantly reduced pain compared to placebo. Another study on elderly patients with chronic back pain found red light therapy decreased pain by 70% after 10 weeks.
Red light can penetrate tissue deeper than other visible light colors, allowing it to better reach nerves and deeper muscle and joint tissues. Here’s a summary of red light’s pain-relieving benefits:
No significant side effects have been reported. Red light is well-researched for pain relief across a wide range of conditions.
While not as widely researched as red light, existing studies suggest green light (495-570nm) also effectively reduces acute and chronic pain.
Green light penetrates tissue less deeply than red. But mounting evidence shows it has unique pain-relieving benefits related to its different mechanisms of action.
Here are some findings on green light therapy for pain relief:
Green light seems especially effective at treating migraine headaches. Studies like this one found green light therapy decreased migraine pain and frequency. Researchers believe it works by restoring the brain’s nitric oxide function.
Green and red light relieve pain through both shared and unique mechanisms:
Green and red light both:
Additional green light effects:
Additional red light effects
So green light seems to confer specific benefits related to nitric oxide and neurotransmitter regulation, while red light better addresses inflammation and nerve damage.
Very few studies directly compare green and red light therapy for pain relief. But the accumulating evidence suggests:
As an example, a 2020 study on arthritis pain in rats tested red light, green light, and combined red/green light therapy. The combination group showed the greatest reductions in inflammatory cytokines and pain behavior.
Right now there is insufficient evidence to declare one color “better” than the other. The optimal light color likely depends on the individual condition being treated. Using red and green light together may provide the greatest pain relief.
For treating most musculoskeletal pain, your best option is likely a high-quality red light therapy device. However green light therapy may still provide additional benefits.
Green light penetrates less deeply but still delivers powerful localized pain relief when applied to the skin surface. Portable green light pads are convenient for treating superficial pain areas.
A green light mask can effectively treat facial pain, migraine headaches, sinus pain, or TMJ disorder. Try using green light therapy before red light to stimulate nitric oxide, then follow up with red light treatment for deeper relief.
Work with a knowledgeable practitioner to craft an optimal pain relief protocol using an appropriate red and/or green light device. Be patient; it often requires 2-4 weeks of consistent use to see significant pain reduction.
Research continues to grow, but red light and green light therapies both appear effective for relieving a wide range of pain conditions. Red light penetrates deeper to reduce chronic deep joint and nerve pain. Green light powerfully stimulates nitric oxide and neurotransmitters to address certain types of pain.
Light therapy is very safe and low risk. Try it alone or in combination with other proven treatments like physical therapy, exercise, medication adjustments, or supplements.
Speak with your doctor about adding red or green light therapy to your pain relief regimen. Consistent use can reduce both chronic and acute pain levels and help restore your quality of life.