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Green light therapy for osteoarthritis pain relief

Pain is often invisible – but its impact can be devastating. Almost two-thirds of people living with osteoarthritis report they don’t experience adequate pain relief.

Jason McDougall “People are sometimes told to ‘just get on with it.’ Personally, I find this unacceptable,” says Dr. Jason McDougall, a pain management researcher at Dalhousie University. 

With funding from Arthritis Society Canada and the Lotte and John Hecht Memorial Foundation, Dr. McDougall is now investigating the potential of green light therapy as a “cheap, safe, non-invasive and easy to use” approach to arthritis pain management. 

“Viewing a specific green light for one to two hours a day has been found to be effective for conditions like migraine and fibromyalgia, so we are going to test it with osteoarthritis pain.”

Results from preclinical trials conducted on animal models have been promising – showing “dramatically reduced pain levels – even beyond what we would see with classic drug treatments,” says Dr. McDougall, who is especially interested in better understanding the precise mechanism whereby the green light perceived by the retina then affects the brain regions involved in managing pain. The next step is a small clinical trial for people with osteoarthritis. 

Beyond helping patients for whom traditional pharmacological approaches haven’t been effective, Dr. McDougall says green light therapy could also be used as an additional treatment to reduce reliance on non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pain medications or opioids. 

Dr. McDougall is excited as well about evidence showing that green light therapy might also improve an individual's mood. Canadians with arthritis are nearly twice as likely to have a mood disorder like depression compared to those without arthritis.  

“This research is innovative, and the rewards could be revolutionary.”

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