We’ve all heard of red infrared light and its therapeutic benefits. But there’s another color, a specific band of green light wavelengths, making its debut in the chronic pain community, and it may even be more effective at alleviating the pain that severely limits one’s quality of life. If you’re among the 50 million Americans living with chronic pain and the long-term effects of prescription pain medications weigh heavy on your mind, it’s time to consider green light therapy.
What Is Green Light Therapy?
Green light therapy is an emerging treatment for chronic pain that exposes people to light across the green wavelength, either by sitting in a dark room illuminated by green LED light or through green-tinted glasses. Unlike red infrared light, which penetrates deep into the body, green light’s effect activates when the light enters through the eyes as the wavelengths are too short to absorb into the body’s tissues.
How It Works
Green light therapy works through the eyes, but if pain is felt through the nervous system, how can exposure to green light relieve chronic pain?
Spanning from the retina to the spinal cord are several neuronal connections that pass through the parts of the brain that control and modulate pain. When we take in green light, serotonin and the endogenous opioid system, i.e., the body’s innate pain-relieving system found throughout the central and peripheral nervous system, alters. Thus exposure to green light acts as a mild pain reliever and reduces sensitivity to input from the nervous system.
Additionally, exposure to green light has been shown to:
- Stimulate natural painkillers: Green light can stimulate the endogenous endorphin and cannabinoid systems, i.e., the body’s natural painkillers.
- Reset the circadian rhythm: Green light can reset the circadian rhythm via melatonin, the hormone that regulates the body’s sleep-wake cycle. Because photoreceptors in the eye are sensitive to green light, exposure sends signals to the brain to reset the body’s internal clock, altering melatonin production, stimulating energy, and reducing the perception of pain.
- Increase pain-relieving molecules: Green light increases the number of pain-relieving molecules known as enkephalins.
Research Into Green Light Therapy
Research into green light exposure is just beginning, but the few studies published show promising results in reducing not only the frequency and severity of pain but the anxiety that comes with it. Green light therapy could even be an alternative to opioids and other pharmaceuticals as there are no side effects or risk of addiction.
Let’s take a look at two studies that are leading the way.
The first clinical trial on the effects of green light exposure on migraines was completed in 2020, and the results were described as “profound.”
Led by pharmacologist Mohav M. Ibrahim, M.D., and medical director of the Chronic Pain Management Clinic in Tucson, Arizona, the migraine study consisted of 29 patients, all of who failed to find relief from traditional migraine medications.
For 10 weeks, study participants practiced green light therapy for one to two hours a day. Using a numeric pain scale of 0 to 10, participants noted that green light exposure resulted in a decrease in pain, from 8 to 3.2. Green light therapy also reduced the number of headache days per month by an average of 60%, as well as shortened the duration of headaches and improved overall quality of life. No side effects of green light exposure were reported either.
“The overall benefit of green light exposure was statistically significant and most of the participants were extremely happy after completing the study,” said Dr. Ibrahim. “When it came time to end the study, we offered participants the option to keep the light, and 28 out of the 29 decided to do so.”
According to a study presented at the Anesthesiology 2022 annual meeting, wearing special green eyeglasses for several hours a day may reduce opioid use and pain-related anxiety in those with chronic pain.
Researchers studied 34 fibromyalgia patients all of who were randomized to wear different shades of eyeglasses four hours a day for two weeks:10 patients wore blue eyeglasses, 12 patients wore clear eyeglasses, and 12 patients wore green eyeglasses.
“Our research found that certain wavelengths of green light stimulate the pathways in the brain that help manage pain,” says Padma Gulur, M.D., lead author of the study. “And while the patients’ pain scores remained the same, those who wore the green eyeglasses used fewer opioids, indicating their pain was adequately controlled.”
Dr. Gulur also notes that those who wore green eyeglasses were four times less likely to have pain-related anxiety, and interestingly enough, reported feeling better and asked to keep the glasses after the study had concluded.
“There is a need for treatment that reduces the use of opioids among patients with fibromyalgia and other types of chronic pain,” says Dr. Gulur. “Green eyeglasses could provide an easy-to-use, non-drug option.”
Can You Practice Green Light Therapy at Home?
There is no shortage of green LED lights available, making practicing green light therapy at home possible. But it’s not as simple as swapping out your light bulbs.
For green light exposure to be effective, you must acquire a special strip lamp that emits a hyper-specific band of green light and is set to the right intensity and frequency, similar to what was used in the above studies. And to relieve pain, you must also spend a lot of time sitting by the light while keeping other types of light rays like blue light out of sight.
With that being said, there is a light called The Allay Lamp, a green bulb lamp designed for migraine reduction developed by Dr. Rami Burstein, professor of neuroscience at Harvard Medical School, but it’s important to note that this product, along with many others, has not been regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Is There an Alternative to Green LED Light?
There is and it’s as easy as walking out your front door.
An alternative approach to managing chronic pain is to get outside and expose yourself to greenery. Studies show that immersing yourself in green spaces like parks, forests, and gardens has a calming effect and may provide relief from pain and even enhance pain threshold and tolerance.
The Journey Forward
From migraines to fibromyalgia, the above studies indicate green light therapy may be the perfect therapeutic alternative to opioids for all kinds of chronic pain. And while the science behind green light exposure is still in its infancy, the research published looks promising, and even more studies are underway to better understand the mechanism by which green light alleviates pain. Perhaps a future where FDA-approved green LED lights are available is closer than we think, giving chronic pain sufferers another tool to manage their pain.
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