The Healing Power of Laser Therapy

Lasers are in supermarkets and compact disc players, and can shoot down satellites. They can measure the distance from the Earth to the moon within a millimeter and repair your vision with just one treatment. They can cut steel, produce three-dimensional images and transmit telephone messages around the world.

Theorized by Albert Einstein in 1917 and invented in 1960, lasers have proven to be a versatile, high-tech solution to many of life’s problems. More and more people are learning that therapeutic doses of laser light can also relieve pain and expedite healing for a wide range of health complaints.

Therapy Lasers use power densities that are far below the levels that cause tissue damage. Ultraviolet light has very high-energy photons capable of ionizing molecules, but therapy lasers use visible and near-infrared light, which only cause molecular vibrations. (You could argue that therapy laser light is safer than sunlight.) The photons penetrate through your skin and are absorbed by cells, increasing production of cellular energy and thus increasing the rate and quality of healing.

FAQ Lasers 101

What is Laser Therapy?
Laser therapy is the application of low levels of laser light to the areas of the body that have been injured or damaged. Contrasted with high powered lasers used in health care that cut tissue, such as surgical or hair-removal lasers, therapy lasers produce beneficial photochemical and photobiological interactions that can help relieve pain and repair injured/damaged tissue.

Can you share some of the history of laser therapy?
The use of light as a healing modality has been recorded as early as 4,000 years ago in ancient Egypt. Albert Einstein wrote a theory about lasers in 1917, and the laser was invented in 1960. Laser light is special because it is monochromatic (one color), coherent (all waves are in phase with each other), and can be collimated (meaning held to a small spot size at a great distance). Dr. Endre Master was the first to observe the positive effects of laser when hair grew more quickly on shaved mice that were exposed to low levels of laser light.

How do lasers work?
The photons of laser light penetrate through your skin and are absorbed by special components in your body’s cells called chromophores. Just as photosynthesis creates energy for plants, the absorption of the photons by your cells cause increased production of cellular energy. In areas of injury or damage, this means there is more energy available to improve the rate and quality of healing. This is called biostimulation.

Because of its biostimulatory nature, laser therapy has the potential to help any scenario whereby the body’s cells are not working to their optimum potential. Studies on tissue cultures reveal a wide range of beneficial physiological effects, including increased levels of endorphins, prostaglandins and other beneficial components; reduced levels of harmful compounds including C-reactive protein and interleukim-1; pain modulation through a variety of mechanisms; and increased rate and quality of tissue healing.

Ok, but what does that all mean in plain English?
For patients, that means relief from acute and chronic pain, reduced inflammation and muscle spasms, improved range of motion and restored function. Patients suffering from headaches, neck pain, carpal tunnel, low back pain, sports injuries, post-surgical pain and more have been helped by laser therapy.

How long does it take to work?
Some patients notice improvement after the very first treatment session; with others it may take a few treatments. The effect of laser therapy is cumulative, meaning that each successive treatment builds on previous ones. The main benefit to patients, as reported by laser therapy practitioners across the country, is that care plans that include laser therapy produce faster and better quality clinical outcomes.

What does it feel like to get a laser treatment?
With very low-powered therapy lasers, you will feel nothing at all. Higher-powered (Class IV) therapy lasers produce a mild, soothing, warm feeling. You may notice a tingling sensation in the treatment area as blood vessels dilate, or that muscle spasms are reducing in strength and duration. Laser therapy is a painless treatment.

How do you know it is not causing tissue damage?
There are two ways that laser light can damage tissue; if it very concentrated (high power density) or if the photons are very high energy. Therapy lasers use power densities that are far below the levels that cause tissue damage. Ultraviolet light has very high energy photons capable of ionizing molecules, but therapy lasers use only visible and near-infrared light, which only cause molecular vibrations. You could argue that therapy laser light is much safer than sunlight.

Are there any side effects?
Some patients may experience soreness in the area of treatment, as toxins are released and blood flow is restored. World experts on laser therapy have commented that therapeutic lasers have no undesirable side effects in the hands of a reasonably qualified therapist. Laser therapy is safe, painless and inexpensive compared to alternatives.

How do I prepare for a laser therapy treatment?
Since laser light does not pass through clothing, laser therapy must be delivered directly to the skin. Wear clothing that can easily reveal the treatment area or you may need to change into a gown at your doctor’s office.

How can I learn more about laser therapy?
Ask your doctor! A steadily growing number of health care practitioners are offering laser therapy to their patients.