Fiona McMahon, DPT
When you think laser you may think of lasers for hair removal, tattoo removal, as surgical instruments, or if you are a child of the late 80’s early 90’s like me, you may think of Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movies. These lasers are all examples of thermal lasers, ( ok, I didn’t check on Dr. Evil’s laser), which use heat to treat tissues. These examples may be all you think of when you think of lasers, but did you know that a different type of laser, cold laser, is a new and effective tool that the therapists at Beyond Basics are using to help treat their patients who suffer from a broad range of conditions from orthopedics injuries, pelvic pain to post operative recovery?
What is Cold Laser and how is it thought to work?
Cold laser or low level laser light therapy (LLLT) differs from the conventional lasers mentioned above in that they have a much lower light density than that of the lasers used in hair removal or surgery. Cold lasers do not emit heat, thus the moniker, cold laser.
Lasers were invented in the 1960’s and they were quickly used for therapeutic purposes. 1967 lasers were applied to the backs of shaved mice and the hair of the mice treated with laser grew back quicker than the mice that did not receive the laser treatment. Shortly after that study was conducted, lasers began being used to stimulate wound healing in non-healing ulcers.
Even though initial research on lasers started in the early 60’s, the mechanism by which lasers do their work is still not fully understood. There is strong evidence to suggest that laser therapy aids in ATP production ( the energy of cells), collagen production, cell turnover, and release of endorphins. The use of laser for therapeutic purposes was deemed safe by the Food and Drug Administration in 2002.
What can the use of cold laser help with?
Cold laser can be a brilliant adjunct to standard physical therapy treatment; however it is a component of treatment and does not correct the underlying factors that caused the original injury, therefore traditional physical therapy treatment of strengthening weak muscles and stretching and lengthening tight ones, correcting alignment, and improving overall fitness is essential to provide patients with truly long lasting results.
The use of laser has been found in many studies to be effective in reducing pain. In a meta-analysis conducted by Huang and colleagues, laser was shown to have a significantly greater effect at lowering pain scores over placebo in patients with chronic low back pain.
In another study conducted in 2003, low level laser therapy was found to be more effective than placebo in reducing pain in patients with myofascial pain syndrome. In this study, both groups were given stretching exercises, but one group was also given LLLT. Immediately following the experiment and at the 3 week follow up pain levels were found to be significantly lower in the group that received LLLT.
Another study conducted by Foley et al, examined the “return-to-play” times for college athletes who were treated with laser versus their projected “return-to-play” times based off of historical data for the players’ given injuries. The study found that laser treatment shortened the “return-to-play” times by 9.6 days, which was statistically significant. The athletes required 4.3 laser treatments on average before they could return to their sports.
Laser is a great adjunct to traditional physical therapy and is a great help to patients where nothing nothing else has been effective. At Beyond Basics PT, LLLT complements our expert manual and orthopedic skills to treat pelvic pain, incontinence, post-surgical injuries, and orthopedic conditions. If you think LLLT may be right for you, make an appointment at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy today!
Foley J, Vasily D, Brandie J, et al. 830 nm light-emitting diode (led) phototherapy significantly reduced return-to-play in injured university athletes. Laser Ther. 2016; 25(1):35-42
Chung H, Dai T, Sharma S. The nuts and bolts of low level laser (light) therapy. Ann Biomed Eng. 2012; 40(2) 516-33
Hakgüder A, Birtane M, Gürcan S, et Al. Efficacy of low level therapy in myofascial pain syndrome: an algometric and thermographic evaluation. Lasers Surg Med. 2003;33(5): 339-43
Huang Z, Ma J, Shen Bin, et al. The effectiveness of low-level laser therapy for low-level laser therapy for nonspecific chronic low back pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Arthritis Res Ther. 2015; 17: 360.