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What Is Infrared And How Does It Work?

What is the history of Infrared Technology

The infrared technology dates back to the 1800’s when it was discovered that there was energy beyond the visible color red in the energy spectrum. After red light the energy is infrared. After infrared comes radio wave energy and then microwave. The earliest infrared technology were the nordic saunas which date back centuries and they are still more effective than many more moderninfrared pain devices. Infrared technological devices date back to the mid-1930’s when the university of Berlin found a way to visually detect heat emissions from combustion in vehicles and factories. This was the beginning of the military’s interest in using infrared technology to “own the night” by developing night vision. We use this technology now in night vision cameras. In 1911 Earl Richardson brought the first heating pads to the market. He was from California, he named the “El Warmo” and they were a big hit. Most households have own one today and they are unchanged since “El Warmo” came out. In the 1990s there was a huge wave of new tech advancements such as lasers, LEDs and small computer chips in almost everything which led to a wave of medical infrared devices flooding the market. Combining this with low cost production from Asia and by the new millennium almost everyone had an infrared device with nice red lights guaranteed to reduce your body pain or even grow hair on your head. Unfortunately, many of these devices were not designed very well and are practically useless. Also during this time there was a flood of passive infrared sleeves using copper, carbon or bamboo and compression stockings that harness your own heat to give you an infrared treatment while you wear them. There is a design flaw in this passive infrared approach that makes the real benefit be due to the compression of the garment or placebo, but not due to infrared therapy.

How does it work in relation to pain relief – what exactly does it do?

Infrared has been shown in research to increase blood supply to the specific area to which it is applied. The caveat here is that the infrared red wave must reach the arterial blood vessels to do this. This means the wave must travel a significant distance into the tissue of the body to reach the blood vessels of the painful area. To do so you need a far infrared signal of specific amplitude following what is ominiously called Planck’s Black Box Radiation Principles, which means the infrared wave must be at a temperature close to the temperature of the body to get maximum penetration. Unfortunately the LED diode devices or incandescent bulbs do not deliver enough amplitude to be effective. The LEDs would have to be class 3 laser diodes to get that kind of penetration. They would also have to be of significant wattage which makes them expensive. Single radiation wire devices like mats and heating pads cannot deliver the amplitude necessary to be effective either. Amplitude or strength of the infrared wave is dependent upon area of the radiator or wire in square centimeters. A pad such as the Thermotex device is unique in that it manages to put a large amount of radiating surface area into a small pad. The radiating surface also has to be in contact with the body to be effective. Devices such a an infrared sauna are too far away from the body to be used for pain. Infrared sauna does have a beneficial effect on the skin though and it can limber up tight muscles as well.

So once you overcome limitations of the devices how does a well designed infrared device help with pain? When someone is in pain the body’s immune system releases it’s inflammatory process to heal the body. Yes, inflammation is good at first, later it can hinder the healing process. Why not use ice instead for inflammation? I will get to that in another post but look up the father of RICE therapy, Dr. Gabe Merkin and see what he says about ice ( The first result of inflammation is to bring more blood to the injured area, but over time it can do the opposite and hinder blood flow. This is not desirable because blood is the best healer the body can have. The more blood the better. Prolonged inflammation congests the area and blocks new blood flow. Infrared when applied properly can override the nervous system’s control of blood flow and dramatically increase local blood flow flushing out inflammatory products. It does this by facilitating the release of nitric oxide in the blood vessels which results in larger arterial diameter and blood flow. The dramatic increase in blood flow can reduce inflammation and facilitate healing.

Can you explain the effectiveness of infrared as demonstrated by a scientific study?

There was a study done by that measured the effect that infrared therapy had on the quality of life of people who suffered from low back pain. The subjects used the Thermotex Platinum pad for this study twice a day for 20 minutes each time. The study showed that the Thermotex pad accounted for a statistically significant increase in the quality of life for those back pain subjects.

What are the types of individuals that benefit from Infrared technology?

Infrared therapy is beneficial for individuals of all ages and activity levels. Those who can use it to the greatest benefit are active athletes who have chronic pain from their training or injured athletes. For reducing chronic pain the infrared can be used immediately after activity. I am a 65 year old runner and skiier. When I come off the slopes my knees can feel sore after a day of pounding themon the mountains. 25 minutes of infrared (I use the Thermotex Platinum Pad from Canada) can drastically reduce my symptoms allowing me to ski the next day.

An injured athlete would start using the infrared 6 hours after injury to get the best healing response. In the 6 hours before it is acceptable to use some ice to reduce pain and increase comfort 10 minutes on and 20 minutes off. This can be repeated 3-4 times but after that no ice if you want to maximize healing.

List 5 different types of infrared therapies?

Infrared Sauna.

Incandescent heat lamps such as a TDP lamp used by Chinese Medical practitioners.

Mats and the old fashioned heating pads utilizing a single wire as the infrared source.

Various devices utilizing class 1 or 2 LEDs in an array as a belt, handheld device or belt

Pads such as the Thermotex unit made in Canada utilizing Planck’s Black Box Radiation principles.

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