Cold Laser Therapy
Cold laser therapy, so called because it is unlike older types of lasers that use very hot, high-energy beams of light, also is known as low-level laser treatment (LLLT). Dr. Stengler, Dr. LaBeau and Dr. Williamson use LLLT in their clinic to relieve many types of musculoskeletal pain, including arthritis and strained or inflamed muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments. Because LLLT reduces inflammation naturally it helps patients achieve pain relief more rapidly and without the risk of conventional therapies such as steroid injections or prescription painkillers. We also use it to treat conditions such as sinusitis…lymphedema (swelling due to a buildup of lymph fluid in an arm or a leg, which is particularly common after a mastectomy)… and tinnitus (a condition characterized by ringing in the ears). LLLT also has been shown to speed up wound healing and improve the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.
How It Works
One of the things that we really like about LLLT is that it is a nontoxic treatment with virtually no side effects. LLLT of one type or another has been in use for about 30 years, but the technology has become more effective and has increased in popularity in recent years. In LLLT, laser light passes harmlessly into the body’s tissues without heating them. LLLT devices deliver energy units called photons to damaged cells. This stimulates and increases the cells’ metabolic activity and, in essence, brings them back to health. LLLT uses different wavelengths to penetrate to varying depths—from just below the skin’s surface to four to five inches deep. Depending on the area being treated, the therapy may employ one or more wavelengths during a treatment session. The laser in our clinic, like many others now in use, enables us to vary the frequency of wavelengths. Once these photons reach their target depth, they produce a variety of effects that help reduce pain and accelerate healing by…
- Stimulating the molecules that cells burn for energy. This increases general cell health and enhances the cellular repair process. In particular, photons appear to increase the production of cells that promote tissue regeneration and wound healing.
- Reducing inflammation by inhibiting the body’s production of inflammatory substances.
- Improving blood vessel dilation, which increases blood flow to the treated area.
- Inhibiting the pain-signaling activity of nerve cells.
- Increasing production of serotonin, the neurotransmitter associated with well-being.
- Enhancing immune activity in the area being treated.
Numerous studies have demonstrated LLLT’s effectiveness. One 2009 study published in The Lancet was an analysis of 16 randomized controlled studies of LLLT for neck pain. The researchers concluded that patients were about 70% more likely to experience reduced pain following LLLT, compared with those given a placebo treatment. Similarly, a 2008 study published in American Journal of Sports Medicine found that recreational athletes with chronic Achilles tendinopathy who received LLLT combined with therapeutic exercises had faster recovery times. The laser group recovered after four weeks of treatment, compared with 12 weeks for the control group, which received no laser therapy.
When We Use LLLT
When we use LLLT, we usually pass the laser over the affected area for five to 10 minutes per treatment. We often administer one to two treatments per week until symptoms resolve. Many people notice at least some improvement in pain, soreness and stiffness after just one treatment, and 90% of my patients notice a significant reduction in pain within two to three treatments. Benefits can last from weeks to months depending on the individual and the problem being treated. If desired, LLLT also can be used in conjunction with other therapies, such as physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications and acupuncture. Laser treatments for conditions such as sinusitis and tinnitus work similarly.
How LLLT Could Help You
For patients with acute or chronic pain, LLLT is a great choice. Take Susan, for example. This 65-year-old patient had severe bursitis in her hip. She was in so much pain that she had to walk with a cane. Another doctor had recommended a cortisone injection to relieve the pain, but she wanted to see what other treatments were available. There was no question in my mind that LLLT would help her. After just one treatment, her symptoms improved dramatically. After three treatments, she felt so much better and had such increased mobility that she no longer needed the cane. People with cancerous tumors should not have this treatment because it may aggravate their condition. Lasers have not been tested on pregnant women.
J.M. Bjrodal, et al., “Efficacy of Low-Level Laser Therapy in the Management of Neck Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomised Placebo or Active-Treatment Controlled Trials,” The Lancet (2009).
J.M. Bjordal, et al., “Effects of Low-Level Laser Therapy and Eccentric Exercises in the Treatment of Recreational Athletes with Chronic Achilles Tendinopathy,” American Journal of Sports Medicine (2008).