This year marks the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the laser. The development of lasers for medical use, which became known as low-level laser therapy (LLLT) or photobiomodulation, followed in 1967. In recent years, LLLT has become an increasingly mainstream modality, especially in the areas of physical medicine and rehabilitation. At first used mainly for wound healing and pain relief, the medical applications of LLLT have broadened to include diseases such as stroke, myocardial infarction, and degenerative or traumatic brain disorders.
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. LLLT is a laser or LED light therapy that improves tissue repair (skin wounds, muscle, tendon, bone, nerves), reduces inflammation and reduces pain wherever the beam is applied. Usually applied by a doctor, therapist or technician, treatments typically take 1 – 10 minutes.
Laser Therapy, also referred to as Cold Laser or Low Level Laser or Light Therapy (LLLT), has clinically been proven to be an effective treatment for a broad range of conditions including musculoskeletal injuries, arthritis, soft tissue damage, and sport injuries.
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.
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, edema and an overall reduction in healing time by increasing intracellular metabolism
Risks and Disadvantages
There are no known side effects of LLLT when used properly. User guidelines include:
- Never receive LLLT over your thyroid—LLLT can compromise thyroid function.
- Wear protective eyeglasses during LLLT—looking directly at the light can damage your retinas.
- Do not receive LLLT if you are pregnant—the laser’s effects on a fetus are unknown.
- Do not laser potentially cancerous lesions—LLLT can stimulate proliferation of existing cancer cells.