Background and aims: For any committed athlete, getting back to conditioning and participation post-injury (return to play [RTP]) needs to be as swift as possible. The effects of near-infrared light-emitting diode (LED) therapy on pain control, blood flow enhancement and relaxation of muscle spasm (all aspects in the treatment of musculoskeletal injury) have attracted attention. The present pilot study was undertaken to assess the role of 830 nm LED phototherapy in safely accelerating RTP in injured university athletes.
Subjects and methods: Over a 15-month period, a total of 395 injuries including sprains, strains, ligament damage, tendonitis and contusions were treated with 1,669 sessions of 830 nm LED phototherapy (mean of 4.3 treatments per injury, range 2 - 6). Efficacy was measured with pain attenuation on a visual analog scale (VAS) and the RTP period compared with historically-based anticipated RTP with conventional therapeutic intervention.
Results: A full set of treatment sessions and follow-up data was able to be recorded in 65 informed and consenting subjects who achieved pain relief on the VAS of up to 6 points in from 2-6 sessions. The average LED-mediated RTP in the 65 subjects was significantly shorter at 9.6 days, compared with the mean anticipated RTP of 19.23 days (p = 0.0066, paired two-tailed Student's t-test). A subjective satisfaction survey was carried out among the 112 students with injuries incurred from January to May, 2015. Eighty-eight (78.5%) were either very satisfied or satisfied, and only 8 (7.2%) were dissatisfied.
Conclusions: For any motivated athlete, RTP may be the most important factor postinjury based on the resolution of pain and inflammation and repair to tissue trauma. 830 nm LED phototherapy significantly and safely reduced the RTP in dedicated university athletes over a wide range of injuries with no adverse events. One limitation of the present study was the subjective nature of the assessments, and the lack of any control groups. However, further controlled studies are warranted to enable confirmation and generalization of the very good results in the present study.
Keywords: LED; Low level light therapy (LLLT); inflammatory facilitators; inflammatory mediators; musculoskeletal injury; pain; sports medicine.