Does Near-Infrared Light Therapy Help RLS Symptoms?

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) causes discomfort in the legs and feet. Doctors think RLS may be worsened by microvascular problems. This simply means that there is not enough blood flow and oxygen getting to these parts of the body.

Near-infrared (NIR) light is one therapy being used to help oxygenate tissues and treat RLS.1,2

What is near-infrared light therapy?

NIR light therapy uses light to bring oxygen to tissues. Small sticky pads or a handheld light-emitting device are placed on your legs. Light of a particular wavelength passes from the patches or device through your skin. NIR light aims to increase blood flow.3 The extra oxygen that comes with the blood could help control your RLS symptoms.

How does NIR light therapy work?

A lack of blood flow could be a reason for bad symptoms.3 The body normally pumps blood and fresh oxygen to all its tissues. If there is not enough oxygen, tissue becomes hypoxic. Hypoxic tissues may feel numb or tingly, and they may hurt.

If hypoxia in the legs and feet causes bad symptoms, then getting more oxygen to the tissues can bring relief. This can be done by getting the body’s blood vessels to vasodilate, or enlarge. Bigger blood vessels bring more blood and oxygen to tissues.

NIR light therapy is called phototherapy meaning it uses light as a treatment. Doctors think the NIR light enlarges blood vessels enough to raise the oxygen levels in the legs and feet.1,4

NIR light therapy exposes your legs and feet to NIR light several times a week for many weeks. The light is delivered through patches that stick to your skin or through holding a small device against your leg.

Is NIR light therapy safe?

For phototherapy, light passes through your skin either through sticky patches or a handheld device. Both are safe. There may be a little warming of the skin while the light is on, but this is not harmful.5

What does the research say about NIR light therapy?

A 2011 study, among others, showed that NIR light therapy lessened RLS symptoms after only 2 weeks. More research is needed to figure out if NIR light therapy works better on primary or secondary RLS and if it works better on males or females.1-2,4

This study compared NIR light treatment to a control group. The control group did not get NIR light therapy but still rated their symptoms as better over time.4 This is called the placebo effect. The placebo effect is seen in 40 percent of non-drug RLS treatments. Because of this, it is hard to know how effective NIR light therapy is.

Other benefits of NIR light therapy

Phototherapy increases endorphins. These endorphins are the same “feel good” chemicals your brain makes when you exercise. Endorphins relieve pain which could be another benefit to NIR light therapy.4

NIR therapy as a complementary treatment

Talk to your doctor if you are interested in trying NIR light therapy to treat your RLS symptoms. This is a complementary therapy. It does not take the place of any drugs you are already taking. Do not stop taking your drugs without talking to your doctor.

Interested in reading more about alternative treatments for symptom relief? Explore our featured collection on lifestyle changes and alternative treatments for RLS.

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