Light Therapy for Fibromyalgia

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Light therapy – also referred to has heliotherapy, bright light therapy, or phototherapy – involves the use of exposure to artificial light as a means to treat various conditions. It is frequently used to treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that occurs at the same time each year, generally in the fall or winter when there are fewer hours of daylight. It can also be used to treat other types of depression as well as various sleep disorders.

To undergo light therapy, an individual sits or works near a device known as a “light therapy box,” generally during the morning hours. This device radiates bright fluorescent light that mimics the natural light of the outdoors. Individuals do not look at the light (which is typically diffused with a screen), but are instead encouraged to engage in normal daily activities such a writing, reading or eating. Treatment lasts from 15 minutes to three hours, once or twice per day, and the duration of treatment varies according to individual needs. Response generally occurs two to four days following the start of therapy, however it may take up to three weeks before symptoms are impacted.

Light therapy is believed to work by affecting brain chemicals that are related to the regulation of mood and normal sleep patterns. By replacing the lost exposure to sunlight, light therapy in essence “resets” the body’s internal clock. Side effects are rare but include eyestrain or visual disturbances, headaches, agitation or a “wired” feeling, nausea, and sweating. These side effects are generally reversible by decreasing the duration of time one spends exposed to the lights.

Types of Light Therapy

There are three main types of light therapy: bright light therapy, colored light therapy, and low light laser therapy. Bright light therapy is the light therapy described above. Colored light therapy involves the use of colored beams of light (generally red, blue, violet, and white) that are directed onto various parts of the body. When the patient’s eyes see the light, the light energy is converted into electrical signals that are transmitted to the brain, where they trigger the release of certain hormones, such as serotonin and endorphins (“feel good” hormones). The increase in serotonin and endorphins helps to improve mood and reduce pain. Color light therapy typically lasts from 15 minutes to one hour. Low laser light therapy uses low frequency lasers applied directly to painful areas of the body. They produce heat and increase the energy levels of cells in the body, thereby allowing those cells to heal at an increased rate and eliminate pain more quickly.

Research on Light Therapy and Fibromyalgia

Although there is no specific research available investigating the use of light therapy to treat Fibromyalgia, light therapy has been used to treat some of the symptoms experienced by Fibromyalgia sufferers, including depression, pain, and sleep disturbances.

Over the past twenty years, considerable evidence has mounted to support the efficacy of using bright light therapy for many forms of depression, including seasonal affective disorder, chronic depression, post-partum (post-pregnancy) depression, premenstrual depression, and bipolar disorder (Pail et al., 2011; Terman & Terman, 2005; Prasko et al., 2010). A large scale analysis of previously-published research on laser phototherapy for pain relief found that laser phototherapy was an effective management tool for pain in a variety of conditions (Fulop et al., 2010). Other researchers have investigated the use of light therapy to treat sleep disorders and improve overall regulation of sleep and found the therapy to be of benefit in some instances (Dewan et al., 2011; Fahey & Zee, 2006; Watanabe et al., 2000).

Learn more about Fibromyalgia HERE.

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References

1.        Pail G, Huf W, Pjrek E, Winkler D, Willeit M, Praschak-Rieder N, Kasper S. Bright-light therapy in the treatment of mood disorders. Neuropsychobiology. 2011;64(3):152-162.

2.        Terman M, Terman JS. Light therapy for seasonal and nonseasonal depression: efficacy, protocol, safety, and side effects. CNS Spectr. 2005;10(8):647-663.

3.        Fulop AM, Dhimmer S, Deluca JR, Johanson DD, Lenz RV, Patel KB, Douris PC, Enwemeka CS. A meta-analysis of the efficacy of laser phototherapy on pain relief. Clin J Pain. 2010;26(8):729-736.

4.        Prasko J, Brunovsky M, Latalova K, Grambal A, Raszka M, Vyskocilova J, Zavesicka L. Augmentation of antidepressants with bright light therapy in patients with comorbid depression and borderline personality disorder. Biomed Pap Med Fac Univ Palacky Olomouc Czech Repub. 2010;154(4):355-361.

5.        Dewan K, Benloucif S, Reid K, Wolfe LF, Zee PC. Light-induced changes of the circadian clock of humans: increasing duration is more effective than increasing light intensity. Sleep. 2011. 34(5):593-599.

6.        Fahey CD, Zee PC. Circadian rhythm sleep disorders and phototherapy. Psychiatr Clin North Am. 2006;29(4):989-1007.

7.        Watanabe T, Kajimura N, Kato M, Sekimoto M, Hori T, Takahashi K. Case of a non-24 h sleep-wake syndrome patient improved by phototherapy. Psychiatry Clin Neruosci. 2000. 54(3):369-370.

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