Healthy Living

Bright-Light Treatment for Fibromyalgia: Is It Effective?

Bright-Light Treatment for Fibromyalgia: Is It Effective?

Fibromyalgia is a chronic disease that causes widespread pain accompanied by general fatigue, sleep, and memory problems. While the cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, studies have shown that abnormal levels of certain chemicals in the central nervous system triggered by the combination of genetic and environmental factors can cause fibromyalgia.

  1. Fibromyalgia runs in the family, and certain genetic mutations make you more susceptible to developing the disorder.
  2. Environmental factors may include psychological stress, trauma, and certain infections. It can also be triggered by emotional and physical stress like injury and posttraumatic stress disorder.
  3. Having inflammatory forms of rheumatic disease like lupus or arthritis can also increase your risk.


Doctors would usually check the pain in crucial trigger points: back of the head, top of the shoulders, upper chest, hips, knees, and outer elbows. However, newer guidelines do not require possible patients to undergo a tender point exam. Doctors will only make a diagnosis if the widespread pain lasts for more than three months and have no other diagnosable medical condition that can explain the pain. Doctors have to rule out other conditions that could be causing your symptoms. These may include:

  1. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – It is referred to as long-term tiredness, which is more common in women and tends to develop between the mid-20's and mid-40's. In fibromyalgia, pain is a predominant problem whereas fatigue is the major complaint of people with CFS which lasts for more than six months.
  2. Rheumatoid Arthritis – It is characterized by pain and swelling in the joints. The pain caused by fibromyalgia tends to occur in areas where arthritis pain doesn’t. Furthermore, arthritis pain is not as constant as fibromyalgia.
  3. Multiple Sclerosis – It is a condition of the central nervous system that affects movement and balance. While there are several similarities between MS and fibromyalgia like headaches, limited range of motion, mental health challenges, and chronic pain, the conditions are different, and the sources of symptoms are different.

You have to undergo other tests like urine, and blood tests or X-rays and other body scans to rule out potential causes of chronic pain.

Pain Management Treatment

There is no universally accepted treatment or cure for fibromyalgia, and most of the time the goal of the treatments is to manage the pain to improve the quality of life. There are several medications that can be taken to manage the symptoms, including painkillers and antidepressants. According to Dr. Tom Smith, consultant in pain medicine at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, chronic pain is multi-linear, which means that a lot of factors could lead to the condition. Hence, a series of treatment is done such as spinal stimulation, physiotherapy, and even cognitive behavioral therapy.

Bright-Light Treatment

However, there is also non-pharmacological treatment. There are different kinds of therapies that target the multiple underlying factors that cause fibromyalgia. One treatment that is making a buzz recently is the bright-light treatment. According to studies, it can help improve function and ease pain sensitivity.

The light therapy is a different type of therapy that can be used to ease the symptoms of various illnesses by delivering light beams to different areas in the body to trigger hormone release and healing under controlled conditions. Light therapy is founded on the thought that changes in the natural light can affect a person’s body cycle and energy and mood levels. Although there is no specific research that can prove the efficacy of bright-light treatment for fibromyalgia, it has been used to treat the symptoms of depression, pain, and sleeping problem.

Light and the Human Body

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, a human body has a circadian body clock that controls the “circadian rhythms” in the body, which includes body temperature, alertness, and hormonal cycles. The body clock is set by a person’s exposure to bright light. According to Osram biologist Andreas Wojtysiak in his interview with The Telegraph, continuous bright-light therapy aims to reset the body’s circadian rhythm, which is often upset in people coping with pain and have cognitive and sleeping difficulties.

The Different Kinds of Light Therapy

  1. Bright-light therapy is the most commonly used therapy, which is typically performed using a light box that contains dozens of high-powered white or light bulbs.
  2. Color light therapy is a kind of phototherapy that delivers colored beam lights to different parts of the body that triggered the release of hormones like serotonin and endorphins, which help improve the mood.
  3. Low light laser therapy uses low-frequency laser light to increase the energy levels of cells in the body and helps increase the healing rate of the body, eliminating the pain.

The Procedure for Bright-Light Therapy

The ideal light therapy system consists of fluorescent bulbs in a box with a diffusing screen atop a table, where the patient can sit comfortably during the session. During the treatment, the patients sit right near the light box with a light on and their eyes open. The patient should read, write, or eat instead of looking into the lights. This is to allow the patient to absorb the light while being engaged in different activities. Sessions can be 15 minutes to one to three hours, once or twice a day based on the needs of the patient.

At Columbia University, a 10,000 lux system with UV-filtered light diffusion, as well as angular tilt is used for 30 minutes daily. This is done to test the patients who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). But as technology evolves, there are now more effective systems using triphosphor, biaxial lamps, and cool-white. While the response of patients varies depending on the light levels, studies reveal that the ideal level of light should match the light outdoors shortly after sunrise or before sunset.

Wrapping Up

The bright light treatment for fibromyalgia is found to be useful to help reduce muscle pain, mood disorders and depression, fatigue, and insomnia. The treatment is mostly physiological as it can rapidly reduce the abnormally high hormonal and blood levels due to the light exposure. There are several pieces of evidence over the past twenty years proving the efficacy of light treatment in terms of managing different kinds of depression and pain. It also shows significant effects in treating sleep disorders. According to a recent study by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, about 99 percent of patients who suffer from migraines experience a reduction in the frequency of headaches after undergoing the light therapy treatment.

While this method is approved by several doctors and practitioners, patients suffering from serious depression brought by fibromyalgia should seek a doctor’s recommendation before undergoing this kind of therapy, and make sure that the treatment is under the doctor’s supervision. It is also important to note that the light output must be calibrated well for proper therapeutic effect. Hence, it is not recommended to create a makeshift apparatus.

Light therapy, however, is not recommended for everyone. Those who are suffering from eye diseases, epilepsy, skin sensitivities, and bipolar disorder are not advised to use this therapy. Some patients also experienced mild nausea at the beginning of the light therapy sessions but were able to adjust to the therapy over time. It is best to do the therapy under the guidance and supervision of your doctor to avoid complications.