The Great Physiotherapy Conspiracy and the Wonders of Infra-Red Light

In my entire athletic career, prior to 2014, I have been warm weather training a total of one time (excluding the 5 day excursion to Ibiza where we found a track and I did one running session and some bicep curls before the evenings activities). That one trip was a 10 day excursion to Monte Gordo.

Perhaps negatively, I always viewed WWT (warm weather training) as the pursuit of the funded professionals or the casual recreational athlete. The funded professional having nothing better to do, so why not go train in a country with a better climate, and the recreational athlete using it as a holiday/reward at easter for all the hard work and sacrifice they’ve put into what is essentially a hobby. Reading that back, that’s definitely a negative view on it.

I’ve never been quite sure about WWT, its always a compromise between continuing the regular rhythm of training at your own track where you know what access you’ll have and what equipment is available, with the complete relaxation of getting away, superior weather conditions but managing the disruptions. As a lover of routine and structure, and having the massive benefit of indoor training facilities throughout my entire career, I tended towards the lower expense and continued regularity of training at home. However, this years experiences in South Africa in January, now Portugal, and then on to Arizona in a few weeks have me embracing the more adaptive lifestyle required for these trips.

I could say the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, but with the multi-factorial nature of athletic performance at my sub-elite level, to put summer pbs or failures down to whether I went warm weather training or not. The ultimate outcome for myself at this particular time in my career has to be whether I’m enjoying my athletics or not, and this, I can say for certain, is the case.

Infra-red light

Almost not related at all to that pre-amble, I’ve been using an infra-red light recently. This is a treatment that used to be en-vogue amongst physiotherapists but fell out of fashion, and along with the bum bag, I’m currently trying to bring it back.

If you look at the scientific literature (and I fully intend to add references and specific information here when I have a better internet connection) but there have been specific frequencies of infra-red light identified to have specific biological functions in the body. There’s specific frequencies which can increase mitochondrial function in the cell, increase ATP production and a range of other things which can actually be beneficial in most injuries, unfortunately, the only way to hit these specific frequencies is to get laser treatment from a trained therapist. These lasers can be tuned to specific frequencies for specific results, and teamed with specific frequency LEDs have shown efficacy in a range of injuries including tendonitis (my particular favourite). Now the choice to receive this treatment is either shell out for a therapy session with a trained professional, circa £40 per session, buy one of the expensive lasers, circa £2000, or screw specific frequencies and hit it with the full infra-red spectrum as often as you want for around £8.

I bought a bulb

So I went for the obviously most economical option and bought a bulb, an infra-red bulb actually intended for agricultural use for hatching eggs and keeping baby chicks warm. You can buy full lamps of amazon for around £30 but I’m a complete cheap-skate. The idea with the bulb is that rather than aim for the specific frequencies, the bulb will knock out the full spectrum so should theoretically get all the biological effects mentioned above and then some.

On the other hand, it may not do any of these things and the sole benefit may be an increased blood flow to the area, but even this will promote healing so its pretty much win-win-win.

The n=1 becomes 3

In the stereotypical quantified athlete way I’ve been running my own n=1, i.e. an experiment with just one participant, me. 10 minutes infra-red exposure morning and evening, and so far there’s been a noticeable upswing in my morning symptoms. Generally my Achilles is good with everyday activities, running and even pole vaulting now, but there is still some morning stiffness which will quickly dissipate with some body weight eccentrics, which I was rating at a 3 out of 7 on my health monitoring chart (yes, I have a health monitoring chart, this is also where I note my heart rate and track HRV values). Use of the lamp has definitely dropped this and most mornings it is now a 1.5, not quite the perfection of a 1, but defo not worthy of a 2. This to me is improvement and worth the investment, my hope is that long term this will actually allow me to get completely symptom free for the first time in half a decade.

Currently two of my training group are also testing this, so I’ll report the n=3 results when I get them, but so far seems positive.

The conspiracy theory

I like a good conspiracy theory and here’s mine. Treatments like infra-red and traction beds used to be really popular in physio therapy clinics, they were used because they worked. As the prices of buying these pieces of equipment dropped, then people would be less likely to pay the nominal £40 for a treatment when an infra red lamp costs £30 and you can use it as much as you want, similarly traction beds or anti-gravity boots dropping below £100. Clearly more expensive techniques need to be devised to keep the money rolling in whether they have a high efficacy or not. I love a good conspiracy theory, and this definitely isn’t the best.

More on anti-gravity boots and how they’ve kept my lower back problems at bay for the last 7 years in a later post.

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One thought on “The Great Physiotherapy Conspiracy and the Wonders of Infra-Red Light

  1. A very thought provoking post particularly in relation to the “physio conspiracy”. My personal experience over the years with physiotherapy seems to be one of constant change. The turnover of the “latest” treatment appears faster than celebrity dieting fads.
    Has anyone else had a similar experience?

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