Photobiomodulation – Low Level Light Therapy

red light therapy Austin photo of red light therapy machine

What do professional sports teams, Olympic athletes, and the US Special Forces have in common?  They all use NovaTHOR low level light therapy, or low level laser therapy (LLLT), to enhance performance and recovery.  Using light therapeutically in the field of medicine is known as photobiomodulation. Westlake Aesthetics & Wellness is proud to have one of the first NovaTHOR whole-body photobiomodulation sauna pods in the central Texas area.  NovaTHOR is a cutting-edge light therapy bed that treats your entire body, using red light and near-infrared (NIR) light.  It stimulates healing by catalyzing your body’s natural cellular processes and increasing blood flow.  


LLLT is the application of light, usually a low power laser or LED light, to the region of interest to promote tissue regeneration, reduce inflammation and relieve pain.  The use of low levels of visible or near-infrared light for reducing pain, inflammation and edema, promoting the healing of wounds, deeper tissues and nerves, and preventing cell death and tissue damage has been known for over forty years since the invention of lasers.  

The most important scientific parameters of light or laser for use in patients are its wavelength, its power density, and the duration of exposure.  Wavelength refers to where the light lives in the electromagnetic spectrum, which can range from high frequency light such as gamma waves and x-rays, to light waves in the visible spectrum (the colors of the rainbow) which are in the middle range between 400 nm and 800 nm, and longer wavelength waves such as infrared and microwaves which cause heat.  The most biologically active wavelengths used in photobiomodulation therapies are red light, and near-infrared light.  NovaTHOR delivers both red light (630-660 nm) and near-infrared light (810-850 nm), via medical grade and FDA approved LED light panels putting it squarely in this therapeutic category.  

The second parameter important in classifying light and laser therapy is power or power density.  LLLT devices such as Westlake Aesthetics & Wellness’s NovaTHOR whole body photobiomodulation pod is classified as a class 3b laser, identifying it as a low power laser emitting visible light limited to 5mW – 500 mW.  By contrast, barcode readers are class 1 lasers (<1mW), laser pointers are class 2 lasers (also <1mW), whereas surgical lasers that penetrate the dermis are classified as class 4 lasers (over 500mW).

LLLT, or photobiomodulation, is not a heat therapy, the effect is more like photosynthesis in plants.  Light causes intracellular photochemical changes that lead to a cascade of downstream intracellular, extracellular and physiological changes that ultimately result in beneficial clinical effects.  Red and NIR light therapy boosts energy and reduces inflammation.  The basis for this effect is at the cellular level, where it improves mitochondrial function in the cells inside the treated area.  This occurs because an important enzyme inside mitochondria, Cytochrome C Oxidase, absorbs red and NIR light leading to an increase in ATP production via the electron transport chain.  Research has shown that mitochondrial dysfunction and chronic inflammation are often the primary cause or a major contributing factor to a number of conditions and diseases.  Cells with poorly functioning mitochondria are weak, vulnerable to infection, slow to heal and not able to communicate effectively with neighboring cells, and therefore poorly perform tasks that allow the body to function normally. 

Red and NIR light therapy has been studied extensively in the medical literature, and there are over 700 randomized clinical trials and 4000 laboratory studies evaluating its safety and efficacy in a wide variety of conditions.  LLLT currently is being used for as an anti-aging therapy, for recovery and performance enhancement, skin conditions, hair restoration, muscle health, nervous system health, low back pain, arthritis pain, oral and dental conditions, cognitive and emotional function, and weight loss.  

For most conditions, its recommended that you jump-start the process with 2-3 sessions per week, each treatment lasting 12 minutes, for an initial one-month period.  Results are typically seen within the first 2-3 weeks.  During this time, cells will be energized, inflammation will be reduced, healthy new cells will begin forming, newly formed capillaries will carry oxygen and nutrients to tissues, and collagen and elastin production will increase.  To boost recovery or prepare for a stressful activity, sessions can be scheduled as frequently as once a day.

About Dr. Wills

Dr. Robert Wills is Austin’s leading pain management physician and anesthesiologist, who has served patients in Austin for over 20 years. Westlake Aesthetics & Wellness is a multi-disciplinary practice that offers direct physician supervised leading edge treatment for pain management, wellness and aesthetics. Our wide array of professional services is designed to promote healing and positively impact our patients’ and clients’ lives. Services include but are not limited to: iv infusion, whole-body red light therapy, functional medicine, medical marijuana, laser, aesthetic and cosmetic treatments for hair, face and body. To schedule an appointment, contact us.