Far Infrared Technology: Therapeutic Benefits and Applications
Among healthcare technologies, some of the most intriguing are those that utilize far infrared light. According to the experts at Life Extension Magazine, research confirms the diverse healing effects of far infrared light:
"A growing body of clinical evidence supports the use of far infrared as a non-invasive health-promoting therapy."
Some of the physical maladies that have been shown to improve with the application of far infrared therapies include: chronic pain, arthritis, joint stiffness and inflammation, and insomnia. Far infrared enhances blood circulation in the skin, improves blood flow in internal organs, and supports cardiovascular health. The application of far infrared light has also been correlated with an overall improvement in health.
So what exactly is far infrared light? How did it come to be used for healthcare purposes? And what are some of the specific far infrared technologies that are now available to treat injuries and improve our overall health?
What Is Far Infrared Light?
As you may recall from your high school physics class, electromagnetic energy falls along a spectrum of various wavelengths. Some of these wavelengths are visible to our human eyes: namely, the colors we see in a rainbow. What we refer to as "visible light" is this range of frequencies that a human can typically see.
But there are frequencies along this same spectrum that are not visible, and infrared light (aka infrared energy) is one of these.
The name "infrared" is derived from the Latin word infra, which means "below." Red is the color associated with the longest wavelengths—which means the lowest frequency—of visible light. Because infrared light has an even longer wavelength—and lower frequency—than red light, it is designated in this way as "below-red."
Within the range of infrared frequencies, there are three sub-categories: near infrared, mid infrared and far infrared. It's the far infrared rays that have been applied in healthcare technologies.
The Benefits of Sunshine Without The Risks
About 80% of the sun's rays fall within the infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum. This invisible band of light warms objects—including the human body—without warming the surrounding air. The healing warmth of far infrared energy can penetrate deeply into the body (up to a depth of 3.5 inches), which means its positive effects reach not only the skin but also muscles, tendons, ligaments, etc. that lie beneath the surface.
And unlike high-frequency ultraviolet rays—which can cause sunburn or contribute to cancerous growth on the skin—the low-frequency far infrared rays do not damage the skin. So devices that emit far infrared light can provide many of the benefits of sunshine, without the risks that accompany exposure to UV radiation.
The History of Far Infrared Technology
Infrared light was discovered in the early 19th century by Sir William Herschel—an amateur astronomer known also for his discovery of the planet Uranus. The discovery was a byproduct of a scientific experiment designed to measure the temperatures of the various colors of the visible light spectrum.
Herschel discovered, first of all, that temperatures increased from the violet to the red part of the spectrum. Then, on a hunch, he also measured the temperature just beyond the red portion of the spectrum—and discovered that this area had the highest temperature of all. This led Herschel to hypothesize the existence of an invisible frequency of light beyond red light—which led eventually to the discovery of infrared light.
The application of infrared light to heat and heal the human body—through technologies designed specifically for this purpose—began in the early 20th century in Germany. Since the mid 20th century, these technologies have been developed also in China and Japan.
In 1965, a Japanese physician (Dr. Tadashi Ishikawa) was granted a patent for a zirconia ceramic infrared heater, which was used for infrared thermal healing. For the first fourteen years after their development, these devices were available only to medical practitioners—until their release for public use in 1979.
Since the early 1980's, the United States along with many European countries have continued to explore and refine infrared therapies. One common application of infrared technology in U.S. hospitals is the infrared heating elements in neonatal beds, which are used to keep newborn babies warm.
Infrared Energy Emitted by The Human Body
What's interesting to note is that the human body also emits infrared energy—particularly from our palms. You can actually feel the heat of the infrared energy by holding your palms very close to one another, without them actually touching. And for thousands of years—in China, Japan, and other Asian countries—the healing properties of the infrared energy produced by the body and emitted from the hands has been acknowledged via the practice of palm healing.
Although heat therapy—applied through human touch—has been used for physical and emotional wellbeing for millennia, it's only more recently that specific technologies have been developed that can amplify and more precisely apply the healing warmth of infrared energy. Let's have a look at a few ways Far Infrared is being used in products.
1. Far Infrared Saunas
While traditional saunas warm the air around you, far infrared saunas use far infrared light to raise your body's temperature—and initiate the relaxation and detoxification benefits associated with spending time in a sauna. But the far infrared heat penetrates even more deeply—through the skin to the muscles, tendons and ligaments, joints and surrounding tissues—where it enhances blood circulation and promotes healing.
Far infrared saunas can also support pain relief, weight loss, increased circulation, lower blood pressure, wound healing, and oxygenation of the cells of the body. According to the Mayo Clinic, this kind of sauna offers a wide variety of potential health benefits:
"Several studies have looked at using infrared saunas in the treatment of chronic health problems, such as high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, dementia and Alzheimer's disease, headache, type 2 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, and found some evidence of benefit."
2. Far Infrared Blankets
An alternative to standard electric blankets, Biosmart Infrared Blankets operate via low-voltage far infrared technology. Though this blanket won't feel very warm to the touch, it will—like all far infrared products—warm your body from the inside out, by supplementing your own body's production of far infrared energy.
In so doing, this blanket provides health benefits similar to those of far infrared saunas or other infrared therapies—while you sleep or nap or just cozy up in front of your TV for a movie. The blanket also promotes deeper and more restful sleep patterns, which allows the body to more effectively regenerate and repair itself.
3. Far Infrared Biomat
The Amethyst Richway Biomat combines far infrared technology with the conductive properties of amethyst crystals, to enhance the healing properties of the infrared energy—which are emitted through a mat that you lie down upon during the day, or sleep on at night.
The Biomat is a registered FDA medical device approved for muscle relaxation and the increase of local circulation. It can effectively provide relief from muscle pain, minor joint pain and stiffness, joint pain associated with arthritis, muscle spasms, minor sprains and strains, and minor muscular back pain.
The Biomat has been shown also to be effective in reducing stress and fatigue, improving mood, improving sleep, reducing inflammation, and increasing tissue oxygen level by improving circulation. On a more global level, it has been shown to support and regulate the body's endocrine, immune, lymphatic, and nervous systems--and so tends to improve overall health.
4. Far Infrared Bedding
Athletes are always looking to gain an edge on the competition. How fast they recovery from workouts, practices, games, or even injury is vital. One of the best things ways to renew is through great sleep. So it's no suprise that you can find Far Infrared technology incorporated into bedding — sheets and pillows. Even pajamas! Just ask Tom Brady.
5. Far Infrared Joint Wraps
Knee, ankle, wrist, and elbow wraps can also be enhanced by far infrared technology. This adds an extra healing element to the support offered by the joint brace or compression sleeve—as the warmth generated by the infrared energy penetrates deep into the joint and surrounding tissues.
Are There Risks Or Side Effects To Far Infrared Rays?
So far, there have been no significant side effects observed with the use of far infrared energy in healthcare technologies. It's generally safe and effective. That said, if you're pregnant or suffering from a severe injury or illness, it's always best to consult with a knowledgeable trainer or healthcare provider before incorporating a far infrared therapy.
The Bottom Line
What we know so far is that the scientifically proven as well as anecdotal health benefits of far infrared light far outweigh any potential drawbacks. While infrared technology is not a "magic bullet," when they're properly used, it can be effective.
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