Graeme McDowell had been using it, and Zach Johnson was tweeting about it. And by the time of the 2019 Masters, the use of red light therapy had reached some kind of critical mass. In a training room next to the range at Augusta National, so many players were bathing in the roseate glow and hum of red light units of various sorts that it became known as the Red Room.
Like any professional athlete, a PGA Tour player is always looking for some kind of edge (see CBD, gum). Extending a career by playing free from pain or inflammation can literally translate into millions of dollars.
So if there’s a whiff of improvement to be had, why not give it a whirl? Especially if all you have to do is spend 10 or 15 minutes a day standing in front of gleaming modular units with a series of brightly glowing red LEDs quietly, effortlessly working over your aching bones?
The question is, is there a whiff of improvement to be had? Doctors Troy Van Biezen and Ara Suppiah, both of whom treat a variety of Tour players, seem to believe so. They’ve been using small and large red light units from Joovv (joovv.com) on their clients for months. Neither doctor is on the Joovv payroll.
“My guys use it mainly for pain control, reduction in inflammation, and as a great way to recover from a round,” Van Biezen said. “Some use it before play, some after. Everyone has their own routine.”
Joovv, a California company that began producing a variety of high-powered red and near infrared light therapy devices in 2016, grew out of the therapy’s use in improving skin tone and complexion and reducing wrinkles — in effect, an anti-aging device with no side effects.
Red light therapy — to get briefly technical, photobiomodulation or PMB — has been around awhile, notably used by NASA back in the 1990s to promote plant growth in space. Medical applications for red light therapy have been busily researched ever since. The basic understanding is that red light PMB stimulates the body’s cellular mitochondria and ultimately produces more natural collagen.
Studies have shown that red light therapy can indeed have a beneficial effect on the skin, and Joovv happily cites scores of them. But the use of red light therapy for better skin opened the floodgates to hosts of anecdotal reports of a lot more going on.
Red light therapy, advocates say, can erase blemishes, heal cuts, moderate scars, shrink stretch marks, combat seasonal affective disorder, lessen allergic reactions, boost energy, ease inflammation, reduce pain, promote better sleep, grow hair, increase testosterone and — well, wouldn’t the latter be enough for any man to try it?
Van Biezen and Suppiah both subscribe to the increased testosterone effect —though that’s not why they recommend it for their players — but because they both tested it out on themselves. Van Biezen is a chiropractor and performance coach who’s been working with Tour pros for decades.
He was turned onto the Joovv devices by Brad Bufoni, an executive vice president with Wasserman, a sports marketing and talent management company, which represents scores of professional golfers. Some of Wasserman’s and Van Biezen’s clients overlapped, such as Johnson, Patrick Rogers, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler.
Bufoni had used Joovv to help with some residual aches and pains from 25 years of competitive
tennis and had good results, so he thought his clients might benefit as well. Enter Van Biezen, who says he’s the guinea pig who tries out any new product or technique before he feels comfortable passing them on to his players. Van Biezen put himself through an eight-week protocol, using the Joovv twice daily.
Joovv passed the test, and since Van Biezen, 50, also had his blood work analyzed, that’s when he found out his testosterone levels had risen significantly.
Suppiah, an emergency room doctor when not appearing on the Golf Channel or helping out his roster of golfers (including McDowell, Bubba Watson and Phil Michelson), likes using red light therapy to combat inflammation.
“Pro athletes always have inflammation going on,” he said. “What I’m now seeing is that more are beginning to accept that recovery is an essential step to giving you a competitive edge. Take the time to recover properly and you’ll be unstoppable.”
One of Suppiah’s players, Kevin Chappell, uses the portable handheld Joovv Go ($295) before play. He used red light therapy as part of his rehab from back surgery following the 2018 Mayakoba Classic. He didn’t play again on the PGA Tour until this season’s A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier. In the second round, he shot a 59.
Neither Suppiah nor Van Biezen claim that red light therapy is a cure-all in and of itself. But Suppiah, after his own self-testing said, “It’s a good unit, a good device to help with recovery; when used for remedies with other modalities it’s is a good adjunct to promote healing. I’m using it frequently now, and most of the guys have full body units at home.” The Joovv Elite — essentially six modular units put together — runs about $6,000.
And even if it didn’t pump up testosterone levels, Suppiah would probably be a fan of red light therapy if all it did was promote better sleep. He’s big on sleep.
“To me sleep is the most powerful tool you have in your arsenal. Ignore it at your own risk. When people say, ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead,’ they usually do. Sleep is the best free medicine there is.”