What is Laser Therapy?
Laser therapy employs low power or ‘soft’ laser light to aid the natural healing process of the body safely and effectively. It has been used for over 30 years and is widely available in the medical field for treatment of pain, wound healing and musculoskeletal conditions. Low Level Laser Therapy, commonly known as LLLT, cold or soft laser, or Laser Photobiostimulation, is a form of phototherapy which involves the application of monochromatic and coherent light to injuries and lesions to stimulate healing. It utilizes specific wavelengths of light to interact with tissue, and is used on patients who suffer from a variety of acute and chronic conditions in order to help eliminate pain, swelling, reduce spasms and increase functionality.
Low level lasers should not be confused with surgical lasers which are a different classification of laser. Low level laser therapy cannot burn or harm the skin. Its effects are photo-biochemical, not thermal.
In addition to their direct healing applications, low level lasers also provide an alternative needle-free acupuncture medium.
Those suffering from muscle, joint and nerve pain may find relief with non-invasive, drug-free cold laser therapy, a safe and effective treatment for knee pain, neck and back pain and carpal tunnel syndrome. Laser therapy achieves improved outcomes and rapid healing in the treatment of sports injuries, plantar fasciitis (heel pain), epicondylitis (tennis elbow), achilles tendonitis, adhesions, rheumatoid and osteo-arthritis, chronic oedema and fracture healing. Laser therapy is used to increase the speed, quality and tensile strength of tissue repair, resolve inflammation, and give pain relief.
The safest and most effective devices used for this therapy are Class 3B non-surgical lasers, called “cold” lasers because they do not generate heat. Unlike Class 4 surgical lasers, which are designed to cut, coagulate and vaporize tissue, Class 3B lasers do not damage cells. Usually the size of a flashlight, Class 3B lasers generate a focused beam of light that can penetrate two to five centimetres into tissues at a wavelength found to interact with cells, increasing energy, cell metabolism and enhancing the natural healing process.
In more than 2,500 clinical studies published since 1967, many of them placebo-controlled and double-blinded, cold laser therapy was found to be a safe and proven method of pain relief with the potential to shorten healing times. Most patients notice relief at the first visit and conditions usually resolve in six to nine sessions depending on the condition and the individual. Cold laser therapy can be used alone or in combination with other therapies as an alternative to invasive treatment.
Most readily available through private physiotherapy, osteopathic, podiatry and chiropractic clinics, laser therapy is also used by hospitals, both NHS and private, particularly for treatment of soft tissue injuries, wound healing and in their pain clinics. Rapid, non-invasive, long-established and extensively researched, laser therapy practice is evidence-based and provides a valuable effective option for physical therapists and sports medicine practitioners worldwide.
How do Cold Lasers and Photobiomodulation work ?
The physiological effects of laser therapy have been extensively researched and the details of the mechanisms are increasingly becoming understood. Particular wavelengths of light stimulate the body’s healing cells: initial absorption by the mitochondria leads to increased fibroblast cell proliferation and migration, with modulation of cytokine levels, growth factors, inflammatory mediators and increased tissue oxygenation – all part of the natural healing process. Essentially by directly treating the damaged tissue with appropriate light, laser therapy helps the body to heal itself. It is especially effective for chronic conditions, or where the immune system is compromised, as it can also re-start a stalled healing process. In addition to the local cellular effects, research on low level laser therapy has demonstrated both enhanced levels of endorphin release, and the suppression of pain messages previously sent to the brain.
The handheld devices used by the clinician are normally the size of a flashlight. The laser is placed directly over the injured area for 30 seconds to several minutes, depending on the size of the area being treated and the dose provided by the cold laser unit. During this time, the non-thermal photons of light that are emitted from the laser pass through the skins layers (the dermis, epidermis, and the subcutaneous tissue or tissue fat under the skin). This light has the ability to penetrate 2 to 5 centimeters below the skin.
Once the light energy passes through the layers of skin and reaches the target area, it is absorbed and interacts with the light sensitive elements in the cell. This process can be compared to photosynthesis in plants – sunlight is absorbed by plants, which is then converted to usable energy so that the plant can grow. When cells absorb this light energy, it initiates a series of events in the cell that is theorized to eventually result in normalizing damaged or injured tissue, a reduction in pain, inflammation, edema and an overall reduction in healing time by increasing intracellular metabolism.
The result of these processes are the reduction or elimination of symptoms including pain, restored function and improved quality of life. In this way low intensity laser therapy is rehabilitative and in some cases curative. Combining these effects with those from its use in stimulating acupuncture and ‘trigger’ points, low level laser is an excellent therapy for treating pain.
Treatment is quick, pain-free, easy to apply and effective. Appropriate probes are placed on the skin at particular points on or relating to the damaged area, and light, which is controlled for wavelength, power, pulsing rate and duration passes into the tissue. Depending upon the condition to be treated, laser therapy is offered on a twice or once weekly basis with progressively less frequent treatments until the condition has been resolved. The patient will feel nothing at the point of application, but many report a wonderful relaxed feeling, probably due to laser’s effect on endorphin release as demonstrated in research.
Established & Safe
Laser therapy is extremely safe. Low level lasers are used to treat a wide variety of conditions in medical organisations across the world. Low intensity Laser Therapy does not heat, cut or damage tissue, unlike high intensity lasers. The specific spectrums of light used in Low Intensity Laser Therapy have been scientifically proven to induce changes in cell physiology. Laser therapy has no side effects, other than the feeling of relaxation. Laser goggles are worn as precautionary eye protection.
Most people are suitable for the therapy although there are certain cautions and contraindications as with any form of electrotherapy equipment – your clinician will advise.
The advantages over other modes of therapy
Patients can benefit from resolution of soft tissue injuries and pain syndromes without the discomfort and side effects of many other forms of treatment. Patients respond quickly when treating soft tissue conditions and pain, with results usually evident in the first 1-2 treatments. Laser therapy works well in combination with manual therapy techniques for pain relief and improved resolution of acute and chronic pain syndromes.
Laser therapy has been found to offer superior healing and pain relieving effects compared to other electrotherapeutic modalities, especially in the early stages of acute injuries, and for chronic problems. Laser therapy is a universal method of treating muscle, tendon, ligament, connective tissue, bone and skin tissue with one simple piece of equipment, however, excellent results are also achieved when it is used to complement other treatment modalities. Low-level lasers can also be used for non-invasive Acupuncture Point stimulation.
The physiological effects of Laser Therapy include an increase in:
- Collagen, DNA, connective tissue cells (fibroblasts)
- Increased strength of muscles, tendons and ligaments
ATP (adenosine triphosphate)
- The fuel of the cell required in facilitating cell metabolism
- Naturally produced analgesic to reduce the sensation of pain
- Immune response
- Lymphatic and venous drainage (reduction of swelling/oedema)
- Angiogenesis – formation of new capillaries and arterioles resulting in improved circulation and tissue oxygenation
Low Intensity Laser Treatments are clinically effective for:
Soft Tissue and Sports Injuries
- Ligament/tendon/muscle tears
- Knee dysfunction (meniscal/ligament tears)
Repetitive Strain Injuries
- Rotator Cuff Injuries
- Tennis Elbow/Epicondylitis
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Tendonitis (supraspinataus/Achilles, etc)
- Plantar Fasciitis
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Degenerative Osteoarthritis
- Spinal Stenosis
- Disc herniation
- Muscle and joint pain/inflammation
- Temporo-mandibular Joint Dysfunction
- Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy/ Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)
General benefits of Laser Therapy
- Reduces or eliminates pain.
- Reduces the need for pharmaceuticals
- Restores range of motion and physical function
- Non-invasive / Non-toxic
- No known significant adverse effects
- No drug interactions
- Often makes surgical interventions unnecessary
- Provides a treatment alternative for patients that have not responded to conventional therapies.
- Helps regenerate organ functions
- Contributes in clearing lymphatic systems
- Reduces inflammation and infections
- Softens scar tissue and relieves discomfort
- Heals post-surgical wounds
Wei is a qualified and experienced laser therapist and is registered with UKITL – UK Institute for Therapeutic Laser, where she has also been personally trained in Cold Laser Therapy by Principal Professor Gordon Farmer. Professor Gordon Farmer is probably one of the most experienced and knowledgeable practitioners of laser therapy in the world today. His career spans over 40 years most of which has been spent helping patients with serious medical conditions regain their lives through the holistic approach of utilising eastern medicine philosophy with state of the art cold laser technology. Holder of five PhDs Gordon has vowed to pass on his vast knowledge of proven treatment protocols to others, in the pursuit of spreading recognition of the powerful effects of low intensity laser.