Nothing is so disappointing to an athlete than to lose playtime to injuries. Red light therapy can help with soft tissue injuries, sometimes in profound ways.
Red light therapy prevents soft tissue injury and speeds healing when athletic injuries do occur. From decreasing inflammation and pain to increasing oxygen and endurance, red light therapy prevents and heals sports injuries, and improves sports performance.
Athletic benefits of red light therapy include that it:
- reduces chronic inflammation
- maintains strength longer resulting in fewer sports injuries
- triggers therapeutic mechanisms resulting in faster healing times
- increases VO2 max allowing for longer athletic endurance
- reduces pain perception during exercise and injury recovery
- protects cells from exercise induced oxidative stress damage
- heals injuries faster, reducing bench time for injured players
To see how red light therapy helps with soft tissue injury and DOMs, see my articles:
- 7 Studies Showing Red Light Therapy Speeds Injury Healing
- Soft Tissue Injuries and Muscle Pains that Prevent Athletic Play
How Red Light Therapy Speeds Athletic Injury Healing
Studies show that red light therapy helps athletes run faster and lift more weight while reducing inflammation and oxidative stress biological markers.
Proven red light therapy effects you’ll learn about in this article include:
- stronger muscles
- less inflamed muscles
- ability to do more contractions before exhaustion
- less exercise-induced muscle injury
- greater exercise duration
- less muscle soreness
- faster exercise recovery
- reduced oxidative stress
- reduced oxidative damage
- more exercise completed before failure
- reduced perception of pain
- more suppression of inflammatory markers than NSAIDs
- less bruising
 Hamblin MR. Mechanisms and applications of the anti-inflammatory effects of photobiomodulation. AIMS Biophys. 2017;4(3):337-361. doi: 10.3934/biophy.2017.3.337. Epub 2017 May 19. PMID: 28748217; PMCID: PMC5523874.
How Red Light Therapy Helps with Soft Tissue Injuries
Soft tissue injuries include sprains, strains and bruises. Soft tissues include ligaments, tendons, muscles, and bursa.
These studies show how red light therapy reduces pain and inflammation of soft tissue injury, and speeds healing from sprains, strains and bursitis.
Study #1: Red Light Therapy Reduces Exercise Inflammation and Damage
Red light therapy reduces muscle damage and inflammation, and increases strength after excessive muscle contractions, according to a 1985 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology.
Inflammation is a healing response that backfires when allowed to fester for too long.
Chronic inflammation damages the tissue it is designed to heal, and is a source of discomfort and pain.
Athletic injuries almost universally result in inflammation that can damage performance if left unchecked.
Red light therapy in the form of red and infrared light treatments reduces chronic inflammation and reduces associated pain.
Researchers showed that pre-conditioning with 655 nm red light reduced the quantity and quality of muscle damage from excessive contractions.
Those rats that received tibial anterior muscle light therapy had more leg power and less inflammation than those in the control group.
Rats treated with red light therapy were stronger and less inflamed.
The red light therapy increased the number of muscle contractions performed before injury and exhaustion.
 Lopes-Martins RA, Marcos RL, Leonardo PS, Prianti AC Jr, Muscará MN, Aimbire F, Frigo L, Iversen VV, Bjordal JM. Effect of low-level laser (Ga-Al-As 655 nm) on skeletal muscle fatigue induced by electrical stimulation in rats. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2006 Jul;101(1):283-8. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.01318.2005. Epub 2006 Apr 20. PMID: 16627677.
Study #2: Red Light Therapy Extends Time Before Hamstring Muscle Failure
Red light therapy increases muscle strength, and reduces muscle fatigue and injury, in amateur soccer players, according to 2019 study published in Lasers in Medicine and Science.
One common soft tissue injury scenario is athletes continuing to play after muscle exhaustion.
Red light therapy delays muscle exhaustion and maintains a greater supply of muscle oxygen.
This effect decreases the chance of injury due to lack of stamina.
Amateur soccer players experienced up to 75% less hamstring fatigue when preconditioned with red light therapy.
In this randomized and placebo controlled study, researchers delivered 300 joules of 880 nm infrared light to both thighs before a soccer match.
Players treated with infrared light had greater hamstring strength than players in the control group.
The treated players were 53% to 75% stronger than the controls, based on hamstring eccentric peak torque, hamstring-to-quadriceps torque ratio, and countermovement jump tests. Their legs were less fatigued, and less likely to fail.
Researchers concluded that red light therapy is “a promising tool to prevent hamstring strain injury in soccer players.”
The players treated with infrared light spent more of the game closer to peak strength than the control group.
They were less likely to injure themselves due to muscle failure.
 Dornelles MP, Fritsch CG, Sonda FC, Johnson DS, Leal-Junior ECP, Vaz MA, Baroni BM. Photobiomodulation therapy as a tool to prevent hamstring strain injuries by reducing soccer-induced fatigue on hamstring muscles. Lasers Med Sci. 2019 Aug;34(6):1177-1184. doi: 10.1007/s10103-018-02709-w. Epub 2019 Jan 3. PMID: 30607719.
Study #3: Red Light Therapy Reduces Exercise Cell Damage, Soreness, Oxygen Deprivation, Time to Heal
Red light therapy reduces cell (and soft tissue) damage, increases oxygen, reduces oxidative damage, reduces soreness and encourages faster exercise recovery, according to a 2019 study published in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity.
Players receiving 275 J/cm^2 dose of 810 nm infrared to their legs had less cell damage and more oxygen than the control group members.
Pre-exercise infrared correlated with these results in the treatment group:
|Red Light Therapy Effect||Significant to Athletes Because:|
|less cell damage||less soft tissue (muscle) injury|
|higher VO2 max||greater exercise duration|
|lower creatine kinase and lactate dehydrogenase||less delayed onset muscle soreness, faster exercise recovery|
|lower carbonylated proteins||indicates less oxidative damage|
|increased superoxidase dismutase and catalase||prevents oxidative damage|
Researchers found that both pre-conditioning and post-conditioning produced good results.
In those players who did experience soccer-related injuries, red light therapy meant less muscle injury, and faster exercise recovery.
Athletes who improve oxygen metabolism have longer endurance during play.
The VO2 max is a measure of how much oxygen the body uses during the most intense exercise one can perform.
Red light therapy increases the VO2 max, which translates to longer endurance on the field.
This increase in oxygen metabolism gave their muscles more oxygen during play.
They took longer to tire out, and therefore were less likely to experience exhaustion related injury.
 Tomazoni SS, Machado CDSM, De Marchi T, Casalechi HL, Bjordal JM, de Carvalho PTC, Leal-Junior ECP. Infrared Low-Level Laser Therapy (Photobiomodulation Therapy) before Intense Progressive Running Test of High-Level Soccer Players: Effects on Functional, Muscle Damage, Inflammatory, and Oxidative Stress Markers-A Randomized Controlled Trial. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2019 Nov 16;2019:6239058. doi: 10.1155/2019/6239058. PMID: 31827687; PMCID: PMC6885272.
Can Red Light Therapy Help Heal Bruises (Contusions)?
Red light therapy helps heal bruises faster, and reduces the pain they cause.
Muscles that undergo acute trauma will bruise.
The area turns purple and black, and hurts to the touch.
If the skin breaks, then the contusion is also a “wound.”
Red light therapy helping to heal wounds is one of the oldest and most studied benefit of using this technology.
In the case of a contusion, the skin stays intact, but the muscle underneath is traumatized.
Red light therapy helps with the healing and the pain of damaged muscle.
Studies #4 & #5: Red Light Therapy Reduces Muscle Inflammation and Pain
Red light therapy reduces muscle inflammation and pain more effectively than NSAIDs, according to a 2013 study published in Photochemistry and Photobiology.
Red light therapy reduced muscle injury faster than diclofenac, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory therapy.
NSAIDs reduce inflammation by suppressing mRNA expression of COX-1 and COX-2, and prostaglandin E2.
Investigators compared red light therapy to topical and to intramuscular diclofenac therapy.
The researchers overloaded the rats’ tibialis anterior, a muscle that stretches from the knee to the foot.
One hour after the strain, they treated the muscle with topical diclofenac, intramuscular diclofenac, or 3 joules of 810 nm infrared red light therapy.
Red light therapy suppressed COX-1 and COX-2 as much as either type of diclofenac therapy.
Red light suppressed prostaglandin E2 more than the NSAID therapy.
Walking track analyses confirmed the results. The group treated with red light therapy had healthier gaits after treatment.
The authors wrote: “We can conclude that LLLT has more efficacy than topical and intramuscular diclofenac in treatment of muscle strain injury in acute stage.”
Another study showed that red light therapy reduced the pain of ankle sprains by as much as 30.81%.
Red light therapy reduced ankle sprain pain by 30.06% and 30.81%, based on improvements in the McGill and Visualized Analog scale (VAS) pain assessment tests.
This study used 10 joules/cm^2 of 627 nm red light on 40 volunteers who had acute ankle sprains.
All volunteers received protection, rest, ice, compression and elevation. Then twenty received red light therapy, and 20 received a sham treatment for the next 6 days.
In addition to the perception of pain reducing about 31%, there was also significantly less bruising in the treatment group after 6 days of red light therapy.
 de Paiva Carvalho RL, Leal-Junior EC, Petrellis MC, Marcos RL, de Carvalho MH, De Nucci G, Lopes-Martins RA. Effects of low-level laser therapy (LLLT) and diclofenac (topical and intramuscular) as single and combined therapy in experimental model of controlled muscle strain in rats. Photochem Photobiol. 2013 Mar-Apr;89(2):508-12. doi: 10.1111/j.1751-1097.2012.01236.x. Epub 2012 Nov 8. PMID: 22989160.
 de Moraes Prianti B, Novello GF, de Souza Moreira Prianti T, Costa DR, Pessoa DR, Nicolau RA. Evaluation of the therapeutic effects of led (λ627 ± 10 nm) on the initial phase of ankle sprain treatment: a randomised placebo-controlled clinical trial. Lasers Med Sci. 2018 Jul;33(5):1031-1038. doi: 10.1007/s10103-018-2460-6. Epub 2018 Feb 8. PMID: 29423840.
Can Red Light Therapy Help with Muscle Damage?
Study #7: Red Light Therapy Reduces Exercise Cell (and Muscle) Damage
Exercise causes oxidative stress and inflammation, which damage muscles. Red light therapy helps reduces exercise-induced cell damage in the muscles.
Oxidative stress is a natural result of the inflammatory process, but which causes damage of its own.
Antioxidants counter the damage.
Red light therapy has acts as a trigger for several antioxidant processes that stop the oxidative damage.
Soccer players receiving red light therapy had more natural antioxidant and less carbonylated proteins in their blood.
Those players had increased levels of superoxidase dismutase, a group of enzymes that turn free radicals into oxygen.
Free radical damage results in damaged “carbonylated” proteins, which lose their ability to function normally and are implicated in several diseases.
Soccer players who received the therapy had fewer damaged proteins than the controls.
This study showed that red light therapy halted tissue damage at the cellular level.
Study #8: Injured Players Return to Field 50% Faster Using Red Light Therapy
Infrared light speeds athletic injury recovery time by up to 50%, according to a 2016 study published in the journal Laser Therapy.
Soft tissue damage healed faster with red light therapy, including injuries resulting in sprains, strains, ligament damage, tendonitis, and contusions.
Injured players receiving red light therapy returned to the field sooner than those who received traditional injury treatment alone.
The study followed 395 university athletes in this study had experienced a range of injuries, including:
- ligament damage
- soft tissue injuries
While control group athletes returned to the field in an average of 19.23 days, athletes using red light therapy returned in 9.6 days.
For athletes who want to get back to play, red light therapy speeds up healing and reduces bench time.
 Younus H. Therapeutic potentials of superoxide dismutase. Int J Health Sci (Qassim). 2018 May-Jun;12(3):88-93. PMID: 29896077; PMCID: PMC5969776.
 Suzuki YJ, Carini M, Butterfield DA. Protein carbonylation. Antioxid Redox Signal. 2010 Mar;12(3):323-5. doi: 10.1089/ars.2009.2887. PMID: 19743917; PMCID: PMC2821144.
 Foley J, Vasily DB, Bradle J, Rudio C, Calderhead RG. 830 nm light-emitting diode (led) phototherapy significantly reduced return-to-play in injured university athletes: a pilot study. Laser Ther. 2016 Mar 31;25(1):35-42. doi: 10.5978/islsm.16-OR-03. PMID: 27141153; PMCID: PMC4846838.