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Far infrared (FIR) radiation (λ = 3–100 μm) is a subdivision of the electromagnetic spectrum that has been investigated for biological effects. The goal of this review is to cover the use of a further sub-division (3– 12 μm) of this waveband, that has been observed in both in vitro and in vivo studies, to stimulate cells and tissue, and is considered a promising treatment modality for certain medical conditions. Technological advances have provided new techniques for delivering FIR radiation to the human body. Specialty lamps and saunas, delivering pure FIR radiation (eliminating completely the near and mid infrared bands), have became safe, effective, and widely used sources to generate therapeutic effects. Fibers impregnated with FIR emitting ceramic nanoparticles and woven into fabrics, are being used as garments and wraps to generate FIR radiation, and attain health benefits from its effects.

Keywords: far infrared radiation, radiant heat, blackbody radiation, biogenetic rays, FIR emitting ceramics and fibers, infrared sauna

1 Introduction

All living organisms are subjected to the natural electromagnetic radiation reaching the earth from the sun. Living organisms experience the beneficial as well as adverse effects of it at all levels, starting from sub-cellular organelles and ending with the whole body. Thermal radiation (or infrared) is a band of energy in the complete electromagnetic spectrum and it has been used effectively for millennia to treat/ease certain maladies and discomforts. Heated saunas are only one of the avenues (and perhaps the oldest) to deliver the radiation in a controlled environment and within a convenient treatment time. With the development of better technology to deliver pure far infrared radiation (FIR), the benefits from its effects have widened. Nowadays, specialty FIR emitting heat lamps and garments made up of filaments (fibers) impregnated with FIR emitting nanoparticles are becoming used to deliver these thermal radiation effects. In this paper we explore the use of FIR as a promising treatment modality for certain medical conditions. We cover both traditional applications and novel applications, and survey the latest technological advancements and most recent scientific studies in the field.

1.1 What is FIR radiation?

With respect to the complete electromagnetic radiation spectrum, the infrared radiation (IR) band covers the wavelength range of 750 nm–100 μm, frequency range of 400 THz–3 THz, and photon energy range of 12.4 meV– 1.7 eV. It lies between the long wavelength red edge of the visible and the short edge of the terahertz (starting at 3 THz) spectral bands (Figure 1).

Figure 1
The spectrum of electromagnetic radiation and some biological changes it may induce.

The classification of the International Commission on Illumination (CIE) has three sub-divisions for the IR radiation as given in Table 1. An alternative classification provided in ISO 20473 standard for the sub-division of the IR ranges is given in Table 2.

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