You don’t have to put on the red light… (but maybe you should)

Firstly, sorry Sting for misappropriating your lyrics, but they seemed to be a good fit.

So why would I mention Red Light in the title of a post? Well let’s step back 18 months, and take a look.

Leg wounds, venous ulcers and complications…

Playing cricket in the summer of 2018, I managed to kick my ankle, and damage the skin. This scabbed over, but thanks to the assistance of one of our dogs, the scab got knocked off. Then a few weeks later, whilst on vacation, the same thing happened again, and this time it got infected.

I went to see a local GP, and the nurse said there was little they could do other than antibiotics and ensuring that the wound was kept clean and protected. 

Unfortunately, that didn’t clear it up, and November 2018 I visited a dermatologist to have him take a look. His view was that, while the risk of these types of wound occurring are higher in those with diabetes, it was unlikely to be exclusively due to that (a refreshing point of view), as the blood flow to the affected area is generally poor, and damage to the area was often hard to heal in most people he saw. He added that other, inherited, circulatory issues that I have probably didn’t help.

He diagnosed it as a venous ulcer, took the scab off and suggested compression hosiery and an antibiotic cream, plus keeping it covered, saying that trying to keep it unscabbed helped the healing. 

Whilst following this course of action, it didn’t clear up, and fast forwarding to July 2019, it had once again scabbed over, and looked as below.

By this point, I’d tried most of the traditional techniques, and was resigned to having to keep it protected and hoping that it would eventually clear up. 

At this point, my partner brought up something she’d been using for collagen regeneration, red light therapy, and mentioned that she’d seen some research that it could help with wound healing. Given that nothing else had really made a difference, we decided to give it a go, and purchased one of these:

There are many red light “guns” out there, however, this one from QuasarMD had had good reviews in terms of anti-ageing, and seemed like a robust bet. 

I then embarked on a self-defined course of therapy, with a month of 6 minutes of red light on the wound area every two days, followed by life getting in the way and sporadic once or twice weekly sessions, whilst continuing to wear the compression hosiery and covering the wound as I had in the previous six months. 

Was this going to work?

Before we continue to the results of this process, let’s take a quick look at some of the research in the area.

If we go back to 2001, the Department of Neurology at the Medical College of Wisconsin published a study that identified that NASA Light Emitting Diodes produced improvement of greater than 40% in musculoskeletal training injuries in Navy SEAL team members, and decreased wound healing time in crew members aboard a U.S. Naval submarine. 

There are many other examples of similar experiments done between 1990 and the early 2000s, a couple of which are listed here:

Bringing things forward a little, Manchester University published a paper in the Journal of Dermatological Treatment in May 2019, that highlighted that a device that they had created with multiple light wavelengths produced some great results.

Likewise, a recent study looking at the treatment of foot ulcers related to diabetes also showed an increase in wound healing by the use of red light, where laser treatment significantly increased healing compared to the control :

The wound healing index is calculated based on the amount the wound had healed throughout the duration of treatment by measuring before and after areas. Higher is better. 

In theory then, it seems that based on this data, use of red light on an ulcer should help.

It’s worth noting that in the period between roughly 2005 and 2012 there are a number of papers and reports that question whether light therapy alone is enough to resolve ulcer problems, an example of which can be found in the Journal of Wound, Ostomy and Continence nursing, with links to other references that back this up.

Did it work?

This is the end of November 2019 photo of the same area shown in the first photo:

The area in the red square is no longer scabbed, and the areas in the scab that appeared to show bleeding are obviously not there. In fact, fresh skin can be seen. 

So in this n=1 observation, there does seem to be some kind of benefit. Six months of traditional therapy saw very little benefit. To recap, traditional therapy was:

  • Protecting the wound
  • Keeping it dry
  • Compression stockings on the lower leg to manage blood flow

Four months of red light therapy combined with the traditional therapy appears to have made a difference. 

Is this conclusive? Of course not, but it raises questions relating to treatment of ulcers in people with diabetes. It seems to have had a beneficial effect for me, and the various recent literature that I have found also seems to provide reasonable support of the hypothesis of its use. 

The question is, what level of evidence is required to provide light therapy as a treatment more regularly, and would any clinics use it “off label” as a mechanism that may help? 

Given the lack of side effects and the generally accepted benefits in improvements in blood flow and collagen regeneration, it surely can’t hurt to suggest to someone with an ulcer that regular use of red light might help their healing (alongside appropriate glucose management).

Would I recommend it to someone suffering an ulcer? Based on my experience in this n=1 example, I’d say go for it.

It seemed to have a very quick impact in improving the condition of the skin and in the longer run, seems to have resulted in full healing. And in the worst case? It won’t do any harm. 

Going back to the start, put on your red light….

1 Comment

  1. I use a red light from the help heal where my infusion set has been.

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  1. QuasarMD – Terapia da Luz Vermelha que pode curar feridas diabéticas –

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