I recently received an email urging me to try the Joovv Go, a small handheld device designed to provide red light therapy while travelling, to treat pain, relax muscles, and provide faster recovery after workouts.
Use and alleged benefits
It will allegedly “optimize cellular function, and improve overall health and wellness.” It can be set to emit either red light or near-infrared light, and in Recovery+ mode it provides both red light and pulsed infrared light. Eye protection is advised. It can cause detox symptoms if the body is starved for light. It should be held 6-12 inches from the treatment area starting with 1-2 minutes and building up to 10-20 minutes over a period of 2-3 weeks as your body acclimates to the therapy. Daily use is recommended, and whole-body treatments will get best results. For topical heating treatments, the device can be held 1-2 inches away. It is not FDA approved, which would mean that the FDA had reviewed data provided by the manufacturer and had determined that the benefits outweighed the risks, but is “cleared” by the FDA, which only means the manufacturer can demonstrate that their product is “substantially equivalent to another (similar) legally marketed device” that already has FDA clearance or approval.
Red light therapy allegedly has benefits for mental acuity, circadian rhythm, performance and recovery, sleep optimization, healthy skin, inflammation, and improved blood flow. I know manufacturers’ websites and testimonials are not trustworthy sources, and I wondered how many of those claims could be confirmed elsewhere. As I kept looking, I soon realized that the question “does it work?” could be answered “yes, no, and maybe.” Not everyone is qualified to judge what constitutes convincing evidence.
There are many other devices on the market that provide red light therapy, ranging from panels to handheld devices. Other red light therapy devices I have previously written about include the DNA Vibe Jazz Band, the Willow Curve device, and the CurrentBody mask. Joovv itself sells several different devices with prices ranging from $599 to over $10,000. I couldn’t find any studies comparing Joovv to other brands.
Other sources express concerns
I did find independent sources with comments that were skeptical. According to the Cleveland Clinic:
Most experts say that they don’t know yet if RLT is effective for all its claimed uses. Most say that the studies published so far show some potential for certain conditions, but that more studies need to be conducted. Red light therapy is still an emerging treatment that’s generating growing interest. But at this point in time, there’s not enough evidence to support most uses.
There’s no scientific evidence to support red light therapy use in weight loss, cancer, cellulite removal or mental health concerns like depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
According to one online review, the Joovv Go provides “decreased muscle pain, deeper sleep and more energy.” On the other hand, a 3 star review from the brand’s official site spoke of not having any benefits from the light. They expressed their disappointment saying, “Well, it’s been two months and I’ve been using 10 min every day. I was hoping it would improve my mild hip pain and help my plantar fasciitis. So far it’s still the same.”
Their own website says “red and near infrared light remains somewhat controversial in the medical community and the full potential is still not completely understood among researchers.”
It is seldom covered by insurance. Red light therapy is also known as LLLT (Low Level Laser Therapy) Aetna considers it experimental and investigational for a long list of indications because of insufficient evidence.
WebMD says :
Researchers have known about red light therapy for a while. But there aren’t a lot of studies on it, and they don’t know if it’s better than other types of treatment used to help you heal.
And “researchers aren’t exactly sure how and why it works.” They list a number of small studies showing that it “may” help with dementia, dental pain, hair loss, osteoarthritis, tendinitis, and wrinkles.
Many studies have had promising results, but the benefits of red light therapy are still a source of controversy. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for example, has determined that there isn’t enough evidence to show that these devices are better than currently existing treatments for treating wounds, ulcers, and pain.
And so it goes.
Conclusion: Red light therapy may work, but the evidence is insufficient
Testimonials may be enough to convince some people, but if you’re looking for treatments supported by scientific studies, you will find the evidence for red light therapy lacking.