Exposure to bright light has an effect on the brain’s release of many chemicals, including those that regulate circadian rhythms and mood. Its impact on pain levels may be associated with alterations in mood-regulating chemicals; the brain processes physical pain and emotional pain in the same regions, meaning that altering the brain’s processing of one can impact its processing of the other.
In a recent study, researchers randomized 125 patients with chronic nonspecific back pain (meaning no known cause was identified) into one of three treatment groups: no light therapy, low light therapy and bright light therapy. They measured pain intensity and depression scores before and after three sessions over a three-week period.
Patients who received light therapy – whether high or low doses – reaped comparable results, showing an average decrease in pain scores of one point on a 10-point scale and a decrease of 1.5 points in depression scores on a 21-point scale. The researchers concluded that the results suggest light therapy can help patients manage both pain and depression, at least in the short term.
See more on the study at www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.
Finding a treatment method that can manage both pain and depression is ideal for many patients with chronic pain, as the two conditions often co-exist. This could be due to a combination of situational and biochemical factors. Living with chronic pain is difficult and requires activity adjustment or limitations. Patients may be unable to or limited in their ability to work, perform daily activities and do the things they love. Add to that the fact that physical and emotional pain share brain regions as mentioned above and it’s clear that chronic pain creates a ripe situation for depression.
Where to Get Light
The above should not be taken as an endorsement of the use of tanning beds. The light used in these beds contain UV rays, which can damage the eyes and skin. Rather, patients can try to spend more time out in the sun (with adequate sunscreen protection) or invest in a light box. Eating meals, reading and performing other daily activities in front of a light box may prove helpful for patients with pain and depression.