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Low-level laser therapy (LLLT) is a form of alternative medicine that applies low-level (low-power) lasers or light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to the surface or orifices of the body. Whereas “high-power” lasers are used in laser medicine to cut or destroy tissue, low-power lasers are claimed to relieve pain or to stimulate and enhance cell function.

Although, low laser therapy can be used to treat a number of disease conditions (many of which will be treated in subsequent publications, this article focuses on its application in the management and treatment of pain.

Cold Laser Therapy or Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT) utilizes specific wavelengths of light to interact with tissue and is thought to help accelerate the healing process. It can be 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.

How Cold Lasers Work

Cold lasers are handheld devices used by the clinician and are often 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 at 90mw and 830 nm.

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.

According to Marovino (2004) and Martin (2003), 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, oedema and an overall reduction in healing time by increasing intracellular metabolism.

Cold laser therapy can stimulate all cell types including muscle, ligament, cartilage, nerves, etc., so a number of conditions can be treated by cold laser therapy. This include:

  • Arthritis pain
  • Back pain
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia pain
  • Knee pain
  • Neck pain
  • Tendonitis

Effectiveness

For years, physicians have been using cold laser therapy on patients who are seeking effective, alternative methods for pain relief. Since 1967 there have been over 2,500 clinical studies published worldwide. Many of these studies are double-blinded, placebo-controlled and have demonstrated cold laser therapy to be a proven method for pain relief.

However, many of these studies were done with small groups, so further larger studies need to be completed. For example, one issue that needs to be studied further is that there does not appear to be a uniform standard regarding the dose and number of treatments.

Advantages

Cold laser therapy is a non-invasive procedure, meaning that it does not require a surgical incision. This means that there is no prolonged recovery time.

Laser therapy also does not involve taking any medications, and many patients prefer to avoid taking medications. Studies have so far found that cold laser therapy does not have serious side effects when used properly by a doctor.

Disadvantages

Patients do not typically get full relief or resolution from their pain symptoms after the first treatment. It takes a series of treatments, usually 8 to 30, depending on the severity and duration of the condition.

Patients often have to return to the doctor for treatments at least 2 to 4 times per week. Old injuries may be aggravated for a few days after treatments, but for most patients this sensation is short term, lasting for a couple of days.

Contraindications

Cold laser therapy should not be used over any suspicious cancerous lesions, or carcinoma, over the thyroid, on pregnant patients, and there should not be direct irradiation of the eyes, as the laser can cause permanent damage to the eyes.

Pregnant women are recommended not to undergo the procedure, since its effects on unborn children are not yet known. The doctor and the patient should use protective eyeglasses so that there is no direct eye exposure.

For more information, visit http://www.spine-health.com/treatment/pain-management/cold-laser-therapy

References

Martin R., 2003. Laser-Accelerated Inflammation/Pain Reduction and Healing. Practical Pain Management. 3(6):20-25.

Marovino T., 2004. Cold Lasers in Pain Management. Practical Pain Management. 4(6):37-42.

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