LEDs and Medical Healing Applications

Polar Ray Admin

In some previous blogs, numerous LED lighting applications in the medical field were explored. Those applications were for general lighting and LEDs in medical instruments. This entry will speak to how light, now produced from LEDs, is being used and proposed to be used in medical treatments.

Phototherapy, as medical treatment with light is referred to, was dominated by lasers until the late 1990’s. Although LEDs were available, they had not yet been well developed for general lighting purposes. They had low and unstable output, the light from them was quite divergent and the wave band was wide and presented no chance for any sort of phototherapy routine. There were a few exceptions but, overall, the older LEDs were not capable of producing light which could even be considered for use in regard to producing useful light for phototherapy. In 1998, an LED, known as the NASA LED, was developed at the NASA Medicine Laboratory by Professor Harry Whelan and his group of researchers. This development gave clinicians and researchers a phototherapy light source which had a much more stable and powerful output along with a wavelength which was much more correct for the photon intensity which made this new generation of LEDs a more clinically viable source for phototherapy. The introduction of these LEDs to the phototherapy field prompted Kendric C Smith, a U.S. photobiologist, to rename the term ‘low level laser therapy’ to ‘low level light therapy’ (LLLT), as to include LED energy in the field. 

It is the reported efficacy at particular wavelengths of LED-LLLT that help at a cellular and subcellular level. The clinical applications include, improving blood flow, faster and improved healing of normal wounds and healing of non-healing wounds, pain management, including postoperative pain and edema, skin rejuvenation and the reduction of many types of inflammation, including acne.  If the LED phototherapy system presents the correct wavelength for the target cells, and delivers the appropriate and adequate power and energy density, the treatment will be at least partially effective, if not significantly effective. The prospect of LED-LLLT being used to aid conventional surgical and nonsurgical procedures is a very real and exciting possibility.

In the case of LLLT with old laser technology, it was thought that the laser might increase the chance of cancerous cells. It was eventually proven that was not the case, and many clinicians outside the U.S. began to apply laser LLLT. These applications first occurred in France and Russia, and eventually led to the use in Japan and other Asian countries. In the U.S., in the 1980’s, the treatment was pretty much looked on as ‘black magic’ by the mainstream scientific medical world. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finally granted approval for the laser diode phototherapy in 2002. However, even then there were boisterous skeptics. With increasing use and numbers of documented successful cases and written papers regarding LLLT, the meetings of the American Society for Lasers in Medicine and Surgery (ASLMS) in 2010 and 2011 gave rise to the fact that LLLT is no longer decried as the ‘black magic’ it was once considered. Although, there are still many skeptics despite the worldwide reliability that has been demonstrated.

The healing advantages of LED phototherapy have now been well-proven to be effective in in many clinical indications such as wound healing, skin rejuvenation, pain relief, various viral diseases, and allergy conditions. In review of the papers and other documentation in the LED-LLLT applications, it was found that the most used application is for pain control. The writings of the successful use of LED-LLLT in pain control revealed that a certain a wavelength (830 nm) when applied to reduce both acute and chronic pain was shown to be quite effective in professional athletes. Numerous chronic pain issues have, historically, been very difficult to control, however the high efficacy of the LEDs used in the therapy has led to a greatly increased number of successful cases. It has also been determined that LED phototherapy can be of assistance in nerve regeneration, and as such, has been successfully used in spinal cord injuries. Presently, many new applications for LED phototherapy are under investigation. The dermatology field, for one, is diligently studying the use of the technology in the reduction of inflammatory cells. It has also been proven in experiments involving wounds, that the LED phototherapy allows for faster and better healing, including reduced scarring, than with wounds that are not treated with the technology.

As an example of the technology being used and available to the general public, a Denver, Colorado company, BioCare Systems, has developed a device which has been approved by The FDA and is powered by patented infrared LED lights. The device, which was ten years in the making, is called LumiWave and is an over-the-counter medical device to help with pain control. It is designed as a chain of LED pods, each of the pods contain 49 infrared LEDs, and the configuration can be wrapped or draped over the problem area. The LEDs produce a temperature controlled heat which penetrates to deep tissue and provides pain relief. The pain relief is temporary but it is believed that the device has potential to accelerate the healing process. Clinical trials will be used to provide proof that accelerated healing is actually a benefit of the device.  The device has been used by Olympic athletes and pro teams, including the Denver Broncos and Colorado Rockies.

The fact that LED phototherapy does work and has numerous practical applications in clinical practice involving many issues will continue the advancement of medical discoveries in the field. The variable characteristics/metrics of LED light sources, which were not possible with older technology, are what make the improved medical healing methods possible, and the future of LED phototherapy is certainly open to new discoveries in various medical fields and applications.

As always, if you have questions in regard to any of your lighting projects, please feel free to call Polar-Ray at 303-494-5773 to speak with a lighting consultant. Thank you for perusing our web site.