Dealing with pain is the main reason why people seek out a medical provider. In the U.S. alone, the cost of pain ranges from $560 to $635 billion dollars (1). Depending on the situation, conservative care should be the first line of defense when dealing with pain. In a time where opioid addiction is at its highest, many are looking for an alternative. One alternative to consider is low-level laser therapy (LLLT) or laser therapy. With more than 4000 studies on the topic, laser therapy has grown as a promising form of treatment (1). A variety of medical conditions are benefiting from a series of treatments, ranging from post-surgical healing to plantar fasciitis.
Laser therapy has even grown beyond the medical setting and into the world of sports. Currently, it is being used by almost all MLB teams and most of the NBA, NFL, and NHL teams. Some major athletes even have their own personal laser units for their homes. At this point, I’m sure you are wondering what laser therapy is and how it works, so hopefully this helps.
What is Laser Therapy or LLLT?
- A medically used device consisting of a power source (different sizes depending on the type of laser) attached to a laser applicator (probe). The applicator is the part of the machine where the laser is produced and the visible light is seen during the treatment.
- There are different attachments that can be used with the applicator each of which are designed for particular structures and locations.
What does the laser do?
- Laser therapy works through a process called photobiomodulation. When the laser is turned on it produces a beam that is near an infrared frequency. When it is absorbed by the body’s cells, a cascade of events occurs resulting in an increased production of cellular energy. With increased energy the body is able to better handle inflammation and increase the clearance of damaged cells.
- What it really means? The laser is absorbed by the cell, producing a boost of energy that increases circulation, reduces inflammation and improves healing.
Not all lasers are considered equal.
There are several different brand and types of lasers found on the market. Classification of the lasers being used in clinical settings becomes a very important detail to know.
There are 5 classes of a laser. Class 1, 2, 3a, 3b, and 4. Classes 1 and 2 are the lowest of intensity and can be found in general laser pointers and barcode scanners. Class 3a and 3b are slightly more powerful but considered low powered in the field of medicine. Class 4 lasers are the most intense of the medically approved lasers, producing higher amounts of heat (4). This increased energy results in a more efficient dosage of energy which is why class 4 lasers are most researched for clinical use and show better results.
What will you feel?
When getting treated you will see a red light and feel the warmth of the laser. The heat is not the healing portion of the beam, but just a byproduct of the energy being applied to the area.
There should be no increase in pain. If you do feel pain during the treatment, let the provider know and the application will be modified.
- Reduce inflammation in the targeted area
- Pain relief from the reduction in inflammation
- Enhanced mobility and flexibility of the joints
- Reduced muscle tightness and spasm
- Accelerated recovery times
- People with tattoos have to be cautious when getting laser therapy. The ink within tattoos can heat up faster than the typical tissue and increase the risk of a burn. When using the laser on tattooed areas, the protocols will be modified to minimize discomfort.
- Skin sensitivities must be considered when deciding to treat with laser therapy. Some medications may increase patient photosensitivity resulting in an increased risk for burns.
Contraindications to treatment
- Eyes- the eyes are a sensitive structure that may be damaged by the infrared beam. Special glasses are used during the duration of the treatments.
- Cancer- Cancer is a fast-growing tumor that will absorb the laser and make the situation worse.
- Directly over a pacemaker- With individuals that have a pacemaker, treatment can still be done as long as the area being treated isn’t directly over the implant.
- Pregnant women- Therapy should not be applied directly to the abdomen or the low back due to the unknown reaction with fetal growth.
What does the research say?
There has been an increase in studies on the efficacy of laser therapy within the last decade. Many of which continue to show positive results for a variety of musculoskeletal conditions. Treatments are typically utilized with other modalities and show better results when done so.
In one literature review done by Cotler et. al studied the use of LLLT on musculoskeletal pain and concluded that “LLLT is beneficial for pain relief and can accelerate the body’s ability to heal itself.”(1)
Another meta-analysis looking at randomized control trials for non-specific chronic low back pain stated there was a moderate quality of evidence in support of positive results when using low-level light therapy. (3)
If you are interested to see how laser therapy can help you and your pain relief goals with Kanady Chiropractic of Anchorage, contact us today!
Written by Dr. Mason McCloskey.
- Cotler, HB., Chow, RT., Hamblin, MR. Carroll, J. (2015) The Use of Low Level Laser (LLLT) For Musculoskeletal Pain. MOJ Orthop Rheumatol 2(5): 00068. DOI:10.15406/mojor.2015.02.00068
- Gaskin DJ, Richard P. The economic costs of pain in the United States. J Pain. 2012;13(8):715–724.[PubMed]
- Glazov, G., Yelland, M., & Emery, J. (2016). Low-level laser therapy for chronic non-specific low back pain: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Acupuncture in Medicine, 34(5), 328–341. http://doi.org/10.1136/acupmed-2015-011036
- “Lesson 1: Production of Laser Energy” DJO Global presentation. https://www.djoglobal.com/sites/default/files/Low%20Level%20Laser%20Therapy%20101.pdf