Laser light has unique physical properties that make it quite different from ordinary light.
The unique properties of coherence (a beam that does not spread) and monochromaticity (the same frequency) defines laser light, and helps explain why laser light is effective for pain reduction and healing.
Laser therapy is also known as cold laser therapy, phototherapy, laser biostimulation and low level laser therapy.
Laser therapy has been found to offer superior healing and pain relieving effects compared to other electrotherapeutic treatments such as ultrasound. Laser therapy is a means of treating soft tissue injuries (tissues that are not bone) in a non-invasive and drug-free manner.
The positive effects of laser therapy are due to the ability of the photons in laser light to increase cellular adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, production.
Photons enter the tissue and are absorbed in the cells’ powerhouse organelles, the mitochondria. Within the mitochondria, the photonic energy is converted to energy the cell can use in the form of ATP. When ATP is increased so is the cell’s ability to heal and recover from stress or injury.
The light energy from the laser initiates a cascade of reactions from the cell membrane all the way to the cell’s DNA. This is called cellular amplification; a phenomenon that earned its discoverer the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1994. Cellular amplification suggests that not only does laser light provide more energy for the cell, but it also enhances cellular function.
Whether the laser light is able to penetrate into the body or is absorbed at the surface of the skin depends on the wavelength of the laser. It helps to think of the skin as a sieve that only allows particles (photons) of a certain size (wavelength) to pass.
Surgical lasers which have a high wavelength cannot penetrate into the body. Instead laser light of this wavelength burns the body tissues.
However, there is a narrow band in the lower frequency light spectrum where we can have laser light, but at a frequency that passes through the body. It is in this narrow band of light that therapeutic laser treatment is possible.
Lasers in this narrow band of the light spectrum are called cold lasers because they do not burn the body.
The cold laser light is at the right frequency to be absorbed by proteins strands located in the mitochondria of the cell. The mitochondria transform the light energy of the laser into chemical energy for the cell.
It is theorised that the laser super-charged cell is able to significantly accelerate the healing process. Other observed side-effects of cold laser are a reduction in pain and reduced inflammation.
Cold laser therapy can stimulate all cell types including muscle, ligament, cartilage, and nerves. This means that the types of conditions that can be treated by cold laser therapy are very broad.
Of course, this sounds almost too good to be true. Most healthcare providers are sceptical when first introduced to laser light therapy. A general rule of thumb in healthcare has always been ‘avoid anything that claims to treat everything’.
It may be a few years yet before the effectiveness of cold laser therapy is agreed upon by all facets of the healthcare industry. However, it is looking very promising for cold laser to live up to at least some of the hype.
Cold lasers have been integrated into medical practice in Japan, Russia, and the United Kingdom. In the UK, cold laser therapy has become a preferred treatment for ‘whiplash’ injuries, neuraligia (nerve pain), and shingles. In Japan, the lasers were approved in 1987 and are in widespread use today.
In the US, the Food and Drug Administration has approved cold laser therapy for muscle and joint pain; stiffness associated with arthritis; pain associated with muscle spasm; Carpal Tunnel Syndrome; neck pain; and low back pain.
Cold laser therapy does not require any drugs or surgery. In more than 1,500 published studies there are no reports of negative side effects.
Unfortunately the benefits of cold laser take time to develop. Cold laser helps the body heal and healing takes time. It may take a series of treatments, five to 25 treatments, depending on the condition. It may necessary to return for treatment two to four times per week while undergoing therapy.
The ability of cold laser to speed healing has not escaped the notice of the sports world. Cold laser therapy has been used by Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, the US Postal Cycling Team, the National Football League, Major League Baseball, Professional Golf Association tour members, various members of the US Olympic Team, and virtually every major professional sport.
Dr. Andrew Weil, in his very popular Self Healing newsletter (March 2006) referenced rheumatologist Dan Muller, from the University of Wisconsin Medical School, who stated he is ‘excited about promising evidence for low-level laser therapy…to relieve pain and morning stiffness in hands from rheumatoid arthritis”.
It is possible to receive cold laser therapy by itself or in combination with other treatments.
Cold laser therapy is available in the Cayman Islands, and it offers another conservative treatment (no drugs, no surgery) option for those seeking to optimise their healing response.