A laser is a device that emits light through a process of optical amplification based on the stimulated emission of electromagnetic radiation. In more basic terms, it is a tube that concentrates light over and over again until it emerges in a powerful beam. The term “laser” originated as an acronym for “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.” Lasers were first developed in the 60’s and since have been utilized in almost every major industry, including healthcare.
When you think about lasers in healthcare, you probably think of surgical lasers that have become the modern version of the scalpel. Don’t let that scare you, the lasers used in laser therapy are specifically designed for therapy and the practitioners are specially trained. Therapeutic lasers used by trained professionals are very safe and will not cut or burn you.
When dealing with lasers, there are four major classes:
- Class 1 & 2: Very low power lasers such as optical disk readers, bar code scanners, handheld laser pointers. (Low level risk of eye damage)
- Class 3(3a & 3b): Lower power lasers that can be used for therapy, commonly referred to as “Cold Laser”or “Low Level Laser Therapy(LLLT)” & are below 500 mW (.5 watts) in power. (Higher risk of eye damage)
- Class 4: Higher power lasers that can be used for therapy, also called “Warm Laser” or “High Level Laser Therapy“; as well as all other high powered lasers in multiple industries that are above 500 mW in power. (High risk of eye damage)
Therapy is typically carried out with either a class 3b or “cold” laser that is under .5 Watts in power or a class 4 or “warm” laser that is typically anywhere from .5 Watts to 20 Watts and beyond.
Our Pilot Diode laser, designed and manufactured here in the USA by the CAO Group in Utah, is a Class 4 laser with a maximum power output of 9 Watts operating in the 810 nm wavelength. The advantage of the Pilot Diode laser is the versatility it offers. The laser can be easily adjusted from the full 9 Watts of power output down to 100 mW or .1 Watt. This flexibility gives us the option to utilize “cold laser” treatment protocols as well as high level laser therapy protocols. The laser also comes with two attachments that change the power density or “saturation” effect of the laser. The ability to adjust both total power output as well as change the density of that power allows us to treat a vast amount of different issues as well as giving us options on how best to treat those issues.
One of the newest and most cutting edge therapeutic methods in the medical world is laser therapy. It is a non-invasive treatment that utilizes a laser to deliver energy to damaged or inflamed tissues. Laser therapy was approved by the FDA in 2003 and has been steadily gaining popularity and notoriety, mostly thanks to an increase in proper research on the subject as well as word of mouth from satisfied patients. During therapy, the power and specific wavelength of the laser allows it to penetrate surface tissues and deliver energy to deeper systems and tissues. When cells absorb this light energy, it initiates a series of events in the cell that can result in normalizing damaged or injured tissue, a reduction in pain, inflammation, edema and an overall reduction in healing time by increasing intracellular metabolism.¹,² Specifically, it stimulates the cytochrome oxidase enzyme in the mitochondria to produce more ATP, which is the basic form of energy for our cells.
Laser Therapy has been shown to help with symptoms of:
- Acute injuries, such as strains, sprains, and shoulder injuries.
- Repetitive-use injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome & golf/tennis elbow.
- Traumatic injuries, such as post-motor vehicle accidents with cervical strain/sprain.
- Post-Surgical recovery and rehabilitation.
- Chronic issues such as frozen shoulder and arthritis.
- Neuropathy, Radiculopathy & Fibromyalgia pain.
Arguably the most attractive aspect of laser therapy to most is not only the fact that it is non-invasive, but also that it is a completely drug free method of rehabilitation that doesn’t take much of a toll, if any, on the patient. Appointments for laser therapy can typically last from 10-15 minutes, with the actual therapy usually taking anywhere between 3-10 minutes. The actual treatment is described as relaxing by most, you sit or lay comfortably while the Doctor or provider uses the laser to apply the energy to the desired tissue. There is a slight bit of warming from the process but it should never, ever become hot. There does need to be laser to skin contact at the treatment area; typically clothing can be planned ahead to allow for access to the treatment area, otherwise gowns can be utilized to ensure proper access to the area. The majority of patients can get some results as soon as after the first treatment, while for some more complicated or chronic issues, it can take a few more treatments to get closer to the desired outcome. Typical treatment plans can involve 2-3 treatments a week for 2-3 weeks depending on the patient situation.
Laser therapy is very safe compared to some of the other options to treat pain when you look at the whole picture of treatment. There are no side effects besides a minor, temporary warming of the treatment site from the laser and there are no drugs to take. The only thing going into your body is light energy. Now, i mentioned earlier that the use of lasers involved radiation…. Not to worry, the radiation involved in lasers is not the same kind of radiation used in X-rays that can harm your cells. It does not use the same UVA/UVB wavelengths as sunlight and it is what scientists call non-ionizing, being that it does not create changes in your cellular DNA, which can cause cancer as is the case in ionizing radiation(X-Rays, Nuclear radiation.) The worst that could happen to you if the laser was turned on maximum power and it was focused on the same area with no movement for an extended period of time would be the same symptoms as a first degree sunburn.
Lasers also are safe for use with animals and are becoming more and more prevalent in the veterinary world!
Here is a great video made by another laser company, LightForce, that gives a good visual description of the processes at work during laser therapy:
and another video made by BTL Medical, another Laser company:
Here are some links to studies and information about Laser Therapy:
An article about utilizing Class 4 lasers in laser therapy:
A study done on the effects of Class 4 laser therapy vs. simple physical rehabilitation in whiplash injuries:
A study done by LiteCure, a laser company, on the effectiveness of Class 4 laser therapy:
We will begin to accept new patients for laser therapy in July!!
- Martin R. Laser-Accelerated Inflammation/Pain Reduction and Healing. Practical Pain Management. Nov/Dec 2003 3(6):20-25.
- Marovino T. Cold Lasers in Pain Management. Practical Pain Management. Sep/Oct 2004. 4(6):37-42.