Bright light therapy has long been an effective treatment for people suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Now new research shows that this alternative treatment may offer significant relief for physical pain as well — specifically back pain.
In a new study, published in the journal Pain Medicine, the back pain of 125 participants was significantly reduced after only three sessions of bright light therapy with 5000 lux. (Office lighting is about 500 lux, and direct sunlight is about 30,000 to 100,000 lux.) The participants’ depression, mainly due to the pain, was also significantly lowered.
Although more research is needed to determine how often, how much, and how long light therapy should be used for relief of physical pain — as well as to determine why this treatment works exactly — here’s what we do know: light has natural pain-relieving qualities.
As our bodies soak in sunlight (or the light from therapy lamps designed to mimic sunlight), we produce endorphins — these are our bodies’ natural pain relievers which can help ease both emotional and physical pain. In fact, the sun activates our opioid receptors using the same pathway as prescription painkillers; this is a process so strong that many people develop a literal sun addiction.
Sunlight also helps our bodies produce vitamin D, which is typically deficient in people with depression. Experts suggest that exposing your skin to direct sunlight for about 10 minutes a day can help you get your daily dose of this vitamin.
Other studies have shown that greater exposure to sunlight can lead to reduced mortality among cancer patients and fewer days of hospitalization for heart attack patients. In one particular study, spinal surgery patients who were given a hospital recovery room that allowed for 46 percent more sunlight exposure actually took 22 percent fewer pain medications compared to patients recovering in darker rooms. Not only did these high-sunlight patients experience less pain, and therefore need fewer drugs, but they also reported less stress.
Sunshine is a powerful healing force, especially when the temperatures outside are dropping low. A warm, glowing sun looks and feels particularly magical in the winter time. Have you ever just tilted your face toward the sun on a cold winter’s day to receive its soft warmth and healing powers?
If possible, let more light in your life. On a sunny day, step outside for 10-15 minutes, or open the windows to stream sunshine into your home. If you live in an area with reduced sunlight in the winter time, consider buying a light therapy lamp. As the trees and flowers need a little sunshine, so do we.
“The February sunshine steeps your boughs and tints the buds and swells the leaves within.” ~ William C. Bryant (American poet, journalist and editor)