Red Light Therapy for Lymphedema

Red Light Therapy for Lymphedema

Do you know how sometimes your arms or legs may feel heavy and uncomfortable with chronic swelling? That's what we call lymphedema, which happens when there's a blockage in your lymphatic system. This system, consisting of lymph nodes, keeps us healthy by getting rid of waste and fluid. However, when it gets clogged and fluid isn’t properly drained, it builds up, causing painful swelling and other health problems.

When we talk about lymphedema, there are two main types: primary and secondary. Primary lymphedema is super rare, and it's something you're born with and inherited. In contrast, secondary is more common as it’s caused by other health issues like if you've had surgery for cancer, injured lymph nodes, or radiotherapy. 

If left untreated, lymphedema can cause a bunch of problems like decreased mobility, long-term infections, lymph fluid leaking out, and fatty skin due to prolonged swelling.

There are lots of ways to help your lymphatic system run smoothly, such as massage and exercise. Red light therapy is another non-invasive, natural, and effective treatment to recover from lymphedema without burning skin. Studies point out that red light therapy not only has the potential to ease pain and swelling but also enhances the overall function of the lymphatic system.

In this article, learn how using red light therapy for lymphedema can ease pain and swelling, improve mobility, and even get the lymphatic system back on track.

Standard Treatments for Lymphedema

Swelling from lymphedema varies from barely noticeable to very severe and painful. This extreme swell-up limits your mobility making you more prone to infections and skin becoming thick and tough. It’s a condition that causes significant physical and psychological challenges.

There is no proper medicine to fully cure lymphedema; the treatments mainly focus on slowing down how fast it gets worse rather than fully fixing it. The usual way to treat it involves a comprehensive approach called complete decongestive therapy (CDT). This includes physical therapy, lymphatic drainage, wrapping with multiple layers of bandages, using compression garments, and keeping the affected limb elevated to naturally help fluid circulation in your body.

These basic treatments can help people with lymphedema feel better, but none can fix the blockage or bring back a healthy lymphatic system.

This is where red light therapy has taken the lead! It supports your body's natural defenses in combating the root causes of lymphedema.

How Red Light Therapy Works

Red light therapy uses near-infrared (810nm to 850nm) and red light (630nm-660nm) beams applied directly to the skin surface. These light particles get absorbed into the cells and tissues without generating heat. When you put it directly on your skin using RLT devices with strong LED bulbs, the red light wavelengths soak into top skin layers.

Meanwhile, the longer near-infrared wavelengths go deeper, reaching into the tissues below, like connective tissues and your bones. Studies show that red light boosts the energy in our cells, opens up the blood and lymphatic vessels to boost blood and lymph flow, and speeds up the wound healing process.

Let's break it down: Our cells have tiny powerhouses called mitochondria, which soak up light. When red and near-infrared light hits them, it kicks them into gear, making more of this energy stuff called ATP. This extra energy also helps in building and renewing proteins like elastin and collagen. Healthy and energized cells can help your lymphatic system work well.

Keep in mind that using red light therapy regularly can bring about significant improvements over time. If typical lymphedema treatments aren’t working, you can enhance progress by giving red light therapy a try alongside.

How Red Light Eases Lymphedema

When your cells have lots of energy, they can do more than just survive. Energized cells do their jobs better, fix themselves up when needed, and even make more of them successfully. On the whole, it helps our body fix up bigger systems like the lymphatic system.

Lymphatic Vessels Relaxation

Red light therapy can help calm down lymphatic vessels, making them more relaxed, also known as vasodilatation. This allows the lymph fluid to flow better and more smoothly. Scientists have seen this happen in the brain's cleaning system, called the glymphatic system. Vasodilatation might help bigger stuff, like waste proteins, get cleared out better.

Red Light Increases Lymphangiogenesis

Lymphangiogenesis is a process where new lymph vessels are formed by the existing vessels to offer more paths for lymph fluid to drain away instead of getting stuck in your body's tissues.

In a study with animals, scientists treated mice with lymphedema with red light therapy every day for ten minutes over twelve days. The result shows that the treatment group had growth of new lymphatic vessels and less inflammation compared to the group that didn't get the real therapy. According to the researchers, the mice tails in the therapy group were noticeably less inflamed and less swollen, with more new lymphatic vessels.

This indicates that in situations where lymph flow is blocked due to damage, red light therapy can help restore lymphatic system function by promoting the formation of new lymphatic vessels.

Better Lymph Node Pumping

Unlike the heart, which pumps blood through our body, the lymphatic system doesn't have its pump. Instead, it relies on movement to get things going; the lymph has to travel up to your neck to get cleaned up and filtered before going back into your bloodstream. 

Movement helps push lymph through the body; muscles and joints put pressure on the lymph vessels to keep things flowing smoothly. When swelling slows down movement, and if the lymph vessels are damaged from surgery or radiation, the fluid doesn't get pushed toward the lymph nodes to be cleaned up. Instead, it gathers between your joints and muscles.

An animal study showed that using red light therapy on the lymphatic system helped wounds heal faster.  Mice receiving red light therapy had quicker recovery of their veins and lymph vessels, along with reduced swelling, compared to those with no treatment. 

Thus, red light therapy helps improve lymph fluid movement, encourages the growth of new lymphatic vessels, and softens your stiff tissues while enhancing muscle contraction for superior lymph flow.

Boosting Lymphoid Organs

As we age, our lymphoid organs, crucial for a healthy immune system, may not work as well, making us more prone to illness. The main one affected is the thymus gland, nestled in the upper chest behind the breastbone. 

Using red light therapy on the chest area may help keep the thymus healthy and slow down age-related changes. Applying red light therapy to other spots, like lymph nodes, might also help kickstart the lymphatic system, giving it a boost.

Collagen Production

After surgery, our body rushes to close wounds by producing collagen, resulting in scar formation, which may limit movement and impair lymphatic function. Minimizing scars can improve mobility and ease pain, promoting increased lymph flow. 

Red light therapy encourages your skin to get back its normal structure by getting those collagen proteins organized. It boosts cells that make collagen, giving your skin more energy to heal. As time goes on, the old scar tissue fades away and gets replaced by new, healthy skin, making the scar softer and easier to move around.

More Interstitial Flow

Our human body contains roughly 60% water, where most of it hangs out inside cells, and around 30% water, called interstitial fluid, flows outside. This fluid filled spaces known as the interstitium are found throughout the body, primarily in connective tissue, under the skin, between organs, and around muscles. It contains fluid, including lymph, and is supported by a collagen lattice.

Near-infrared light, with its longer wavelengths, penetrates deeply into the body, as demonstrated by a study in 2019 that revealed NIR light treatment boosts interstitial flow and promotes the formation of a flexible collagen framework, facilitating fluid movement.

Mood Improvement

For those dealing with chronic lymphedema, managing emotions like depression is crucial for healing. Breast cancer survivors with lymphedema often struggle with anxiety, depression, and fatigue, so it's important to address these to aid faster recovery. 

In a study from 2019, they looked at 22 ladies who had breast cancer and had swollen arms. They split them into two groups: one group got a special light treatment with regular therapy, and the other group got regular therapy with a fake treatment. 

After a year, the ones who had the light treatment felt less worried and better about themselves than the other group.


Red light therapy boosts the flow of lymph, stopping it from getting stuck in the body's tissues. When combined with less swelling and better blood flow, this helps the body get rid of extra liquid, making the swollen limbs smaller. You can try red light therapy at home to help your lymphatic system stay healthy. 

Studies show it's safe and works well for issues like swelling and soreness. For the best care, we suggest using both red and NIR lights to tackle swelling and inflammation in different layers of your skin and tissue, like muscles and the spaces between cells.

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