Introduction to Cold Laser Therapy
If you are experiencing problems with chronic inflammation or painful arthritis, you may be surprised if your doctor offers you the option of laser therapy. Don’t be alarmed: you won’t be facing a bizarre device that looks like it was used in the latest science fiction movie. Your physician is actually on the cutting edge of medicine by deciding to implement the use of cold laser therapy.
Cold laser therapy is a method of medical treatment that is nor commonly known by most individuals. Although it has been in use for years, you may have never heard of it. When most people think of laser surgery, they picture the operating room, where a surgeon is using a laser to cut into the body of a patient during surgery. And although there are special lasers that are used in invasive surgical procedures, that is a totally different type of laser altogether.
So what is a laser? Laser stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.(1) A laser is, essentially, a beam of light. High energy is concentrated within that beam of light. As the light is focused in a particular area of the body, the light is absorbed by the body’s mitochondria; this leads to a chain reaction, causing the body’s natural healing ability to accelerate. More and more physicians and other medical professionals are using the technology of cold laser therapy in their treatment of a variety of medical ailments.
Cold laser therapy uses low power light in order to stimulate the healing process. (2) Cold laser therapy is used in many different medical applications, as will be explored in this article.
What is Cold Laser Therapy? (also called low level laser therapy)
Cold laser therapy, also known as low level laser therapy (LLLT), is a type of medical treatment that utilizes a specific type of laser to treat patients suffering from acute or chronic conditions. The laser uses a specific wavelength of light that interacts with the body’s tissue. This type of therapy is believed to speed up the body’s natural healing process, as the light is absorbed by the body’s mitochondria, which increases the energy production within the cells. (3)
What Are the Classes of Cold Lasers?
The F.D.A. has classified medical lasers into categories of surgical vs. non-surgical. Class 3A and 3B are non-surgical lasers: they cannot be used to cut tissue. Class 3A lasers are used to aid in the healing of superficial wounds and are generally not used to penetrate beneath the surface of the skin. Class 3B lasers, however, are designed to penetrate through the skin where they can aid in healing deep tissue and joint issues. (4)
What is Cold Laser Therapy Used For?
There is a wide variety of medical applications that can benefit from the use of low level light therapy. Since LLLT is a non-invasive treatment option, many medical professionals are jumping onboard and using it in their practices.
For dentists, the cold laser can aid in treatment of mouth sores and ulcers, hastening the healing process. They are also finding it is useful in the treatment of pain from Temporomandibular Joint Injury (TMJ). Dentists and oral surgeons are using LLLT following extractions to reduce swelling and hasten the healing time. It is used in cases of dry socket, and it is used following dental implants. (5) More and more dentists are finding the cold laser therapy can greatly enhance their ability to offer relief to their dental patients.
For pain management clinicians, cold laser therapy is something that can be added to a patient’s pain management plan. Think of it as another layer in the overall care for the individual suffering from chronic pain. Cold laser therapy offers a non-surgical treatment that may provide greatly needed relief for patients.
For the family doctor, cold laser therapy enables the physician to find an innovative way to enhance medical care for the patients. For the woman suffering from arthritis, cold laser therapy can provide relief by decreasing inflammation. For the high school athlete, the physician can treat sports-related injuries by decreasing inflammation and by enhancing the body’s own ability to heal itself. The applications of cold laser therapy are practically endless, as additional medical specialty groups are finding ways to utilize this technology to help patients feel better.
The most common reason physicians are consulted in the US is due to pain. With one-third of Americans experiencing chronic pain, physicians are looking for effective treatment options for their patients, while also keeping in mind the need for the lowest risk possible. The common pain therapies in use today include anti-inflammatory drugs, steroid injections, pain medications and surgical intervention. (6)
Keeping all of this in mind, it is clear why physicians are beginning to turn to cold laser therapy as a viable option for patients suffering from chronic pain as well as those suffering from short-term situations when pain is experienced, like in the instance of a muscle strain or whiplash.
In cases where someone is suffering from chronic pain, a medical professional may choose to use cold laser therapy in combination with therapeutic massage in order to decrease chronic pain symptoms. The use of cold laser therapy does not necessarily take the place of other modalities of pain management; instead, it can be used to enhance the treatment of chronic pain.
Pain management clinicians and other medical professionals use cold laser therapy to treat individuals who are suffering from chronic pain. In some instances, cold laser therapy is used in conjunction with therapeutic massage in order to decrease chronic pain symptoms. Cold laser therapy would be another tool for the physician to use to reduce pain.
In chronic pain situations, doctors often recommend medications that reduce swelling, or inflammation. They may also offer pain medication to reduce the level of pain the individual is dealing with on a daily basis. Many pain management clinics can provide steroid injections or even use radiofrequency to decrease sensation in an area of nerve tissue.
There are a variety of circumstances when your physician may suggest the use of cold laser therapy for pain issues. These include:
- Pain and stiffness from arthritis
- Back pain
- Carpal tunnel syndrome (hand/wrist pain)
- Pain connected with fibromyalgia
- Pain in the knee
- Neck pain
Cold laser therapy is used by a variety of medical professionals. For example, dentists sometimes use cold lasers when they are treating inflammation in a patient’s mouth; they may also use it to treat mouth ulcers.
Physicians may use cold laser to decrease inflammation from numerous conditions such as arthritis or other situations where inflammation is present. By lowering inflammation, the body’s own healing process can begin.
Inflammation can increase the pain a patient is experiencing. For example, if a patient who suffers from herniated or bulging discs develops inflammation in an area of their spinal column, the inflamed tissue can actually press upon particular nerves, leading to pain that appears in other areas of the body. Inflammation in the lower spine can cause a patient to experience pain that runs down the back of their leg and even all the way down to their foot if the inflammation is impacting the sciatic nerve. Physicians are exploring ways that cold laser therapy can be used to treat a variety of causes of inflammation to determine if they can decrease pain and discomfort their patients are experiencing.
Some physicians are using cold laser therapy to promote faster healing. By releasing stored energy the cold laser speeds up the cellular repair. It also widens arteries and veins around the injury site, allowing more nutrients to reach the damaged area. Cold laser even improves white blood cell activity. In addition, the laser stimulates collagen, an essential protein that is key in repairing wounds and other injuries. (7)
Physicians may choose to use cold laser therapy to aid in the repair of acute injuries such as:
- Muscle sprain or strain
- Repetitive motion-caused injury
- Sports injuries like tennis elbow, tendonitis, shoulder injuries
The Safety of Cold Laser Therapy
When individuals are offered the option to allow their doctor to utilize cold laser therapy in their treatment, one of the main concerns expressed by patients centers around the safety of the device. The two main issues are the possibility of eye damage and concerns about possible burns resulting from the heat produced by the laser.
Since lasers produce a high intensity light, your medical provider should advise you that you should not look directly at the laser emitter. Some medical offices will provide the option of wearing safety goggles in order to prevent possible eye injury. (8)
Lasers that are used during actual surgery are used in order to cut, burn and/or vaporize tissue during the surgical procedure. The lasers used in this type of situation are often referred to as hot lasers. This is a different type of laser than the cold laser. In cold laser procedures, the rays of the laser will penetrate the skin but will not burn it. In other words, unlike surgical lasers, the cold laser does not heat up the skin tissues upon which it is focused. Some patients do feel a slight warming in the area being treated, as the increased blood circulation that results may create a mild sensation of warmth.
Other Safety Concerns
Cold lasers should not be used in the general region of the heart in patients who have pacemakers in place; anyone with a pacemaker who is offered the option of cold laser therapy needs to discuss this with their cardiac professional in order to obtain appropriate guidance.
Women who are pregnant should discuss the use of cold lasers with their physician for current recommendations.
There are other guidelines and recommendations for physicians to consider when they are determining whether or not cold laser therapy is appropriate for a particular patient. The treating physician should have the patient’s medical history in mind when deciding if cold laser therapy is appropriate for the individual.
Super Pulsed Cold Lasers (see Multi Radiance Medical)
In addition to the typical low level cold laser, there is a class of LLLTs called super pulsed cold lasers. This type of cold laser emits controlled pulses of light at a high power for a short length of time. The series of controlled pulses is able to better penetrate the skin without burning the body’s tissue.
The benefits of super pulsed cold lasers include:
- Better penetration. This type of laser achieves enhanced penetration of the skin.
- Quicker Action. This type of laser is able to act faster than the traditional cold laser.
- No Heat Sensation. This type of laser uses a series of pulses that are so short in duration that they do not cause any sensation of heat.
What Is The Typical Cold Laser Therapy Regimen?
Keeping in mind that each individual treatment plan will vary greatly, the typical cold laser therapy treatment takes place over a course of weeks. On average, it can take 8 to 30 treatment sessions for maximum effect to be achieved. In some instances, a patient may expect to have 2-4 treatments per week. It is up to your medical professional to determine the frequency of sessions and the length of the overall treatment, which depends upon the type and severity of medical condition under treatment. (9)
If you are considering cold laser therapy, your physician has determined that this therapy should provide beneficial treatment of your particular physical ailment. Make sure that your medical provider is aware of your medical history, and do not be reluctant to ask questions. The use of cold laser therapy is becoming more and more common each day, thanks to its low risk profile and the wide variety of medical ailments that benefit from its use. If your physician or clinician is recommending it for your particular ailment, cold laser therapy may just be the answer to what ails you.