A history of research into light therapy for concussions and CTE

This article is a companion to our Light Therapy treatment page, which explains how the LED light therapy devices work, how to access the same devices researchers are using, and the science behind light therapy, or photobiomodulation.

Light therapy is an exciting new area of research as a possible treatment for persistent post-concussion symptoms, also called post-concussion syndrome, or chronic mTBI. Research in 2019 is also showing that light therapy is a potential treatment for patients diagnosed with probably chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

Margaret A. Naeser, Ph.D. talks about light therapy for traumatic brain injury at the Boston VA Medical Center.

2011 Light therapy for persistent post-concussion symptoms - two case studies

In 2011, Dr. Maraget Naeser was the lead author of Improved Cognitive Function After Transcranial, Light-Emitting Diode Treatments in Chronic, Traumatic Brain Injury: Two Case Reports published in Photomedicine and Laser Surgery. Dr. Naeser writes:

Transcranial red/NIR LED may be an inexpensive, noninvasive treatment, suitable for home treatments, to improve cognitive function in TBI patients, as well as to reduce symptom severity in PTSD patients. 

Also in 2011, Dr. Naeser authored this article with Michael R. Hamblin, Ph.D.: Potential for Transcranial Laser or LED Therapy to Treat Stroke, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Neurodegenerative Disease in Photomedicine and Laser Surgery. 

In humans, two chronic, mTBI cases showed improved cognition following a series of TLT treatments with red/NIR LED cluster heads.

2014 Light therapy for eleven patients with persistent post-concussion symptoms

Dr. Margaret Naeser worked with a team in Boston on the first clinical trial of light therapy for mTBI. The results were published in 2014 in the Journal of Neurotrauma: Significant Improvements in Cognitive Performance Post-Transcranial, Red/Near-Infrared Light-Emitting Diode Treatments in Chronic, Mild Traumatic Brain Injury: Open-Protocol Study.  

2016 Light therapy for TBI patients - an analysis

A 2016 publication discusses current, ongoing studies of traumatic brain injury patients either with transcranial LEDs (against the scalp) or with intranasal only LEDs.

2017 Light therapy for chronic TBI, an overview of research studies

A 2017 article by Michael R. Hamblin addresses photobiomodulation for traumatic brain injury and stroke. We suggest sections 5.2, 5.2, and 5.3 of the article, concerning “patients with chronic TBI.”

2018 Light therapy for veterans with Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses (GWVI)

Dr. Margaret Naeser is currently heading up a study at the VA Boston Medical Health Care System. Transcranial, Light-emitting Diode (LED) Therapy to Improve Cognition in Gulf War Veterans Illnesses is a 5-year study. Dr. Naeser is using a LED helmet created by Photomedex as well as the Vielight intranasal diodes. The study is investigating whether light therapy improves cognition in veterans with Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses; the results of the study are due in 2020.


2019 Light therapy for probable CTE

At the March 2019 IBIA conference in Toronto, Dr. Margaret Naeser presented two case studies of light therapy having significant positive effects in two retired, professional football players with probable CTE. Clinical tests confirmed the positive effects, and in the case of the one football player who agreed to fMRI scans, the scans confirmed the positive results.

Also, both football players are using Vielight Neuro Gamma and Vielight 633 Red devices for in-home follow-up care. For the one football player who elected to have fMRI scans, the scans and clinical tests showed that the in-home use of the Vielight Neuro Gamma had significant positive effects. See our in-depth article, Light Therapy for CTE.