LOW-LEVEL LASER THERAPY: WHAT IS IT?
Low-level laser therapy (LLLT) is a form of therapy that uses low-level power lasers, otherwise known as a light-emitting diode (LED). Other names include low-power laser, soft laser, cold laser, biostimulation laser, therapeutic laser, and laser acupuncture. Whereas high-power lasers used in laser medicine destroy or cut tissue, low-power lasers stimulate cells and to encourage them to function. In addition, using LLLT on acupoints stimulates these acupuncture meridians and has been successfully used on patients in combination or in lieu of traditional acupuncture needles.
HOW DOES LASER THERAPY WORK?
Laser therapy works on the bases of photobiomodulation. Biological reaction to light is nothing new. We normally experience this through our eyes which are obviously photosensitive – our vision is based upon light hitting our retinas and creating a chemical reaction that allows us to see. We experience this with vitamin D synthesis in our skin – due to sunlight creating biochemical reactions. We experience this with suntans – due to the light of the sun stimulating our melanocytes to proliferate and give us “brown” skin. Light reacts chemically with other things as well. When low level laser light waves penetrate deeply into the skin, they optimize the immune responses of our blood. This has both anti-inflammatory and immunostimulate effects. It is a scientific fact that light transmitted to the blood in this way has positive effects throughout the whole body, supplying vital oxygen and energy to every cell.
Low level laser therapy does not induce heating in tissue like surgical or aesthetic lasers. It’s all in the photochemical reactions of certain wavelengths of light with our cell membranes, cellular organelles and enzymes. Compromised cells respond better than healthy cells to photochemical reactions so that brief treatments with low level light on damaged tissue can induce a complex chain of physiological reactions to enhance wound healing and tissue regeneration, reduce acute inflammation, treat chronic pain and stimulate acupuncture points without use of needles.
WHAT DOES LLLT TREAT?
Laser therapy has been used successfully for speeding wound healing, tissue regeneration, reducing inflammation due to trauma or arthritis, and treatment of chronic pain. Chronic back pain in horses due to lameness, incorrect saddle fit, or other causes often benefits from LLLT. In dogs and cats, laser therapy is often used in disc disease patients to stimulate blood flow and healing in the effected areas, used in combination with chiropractic and/or traditional acupuncture techniques and traditional chinese herbals for optimal results.
In my practice, the most common use for LLLT is for the stimulation of acupuncture points to activate meridians (channels of energy) for the various benefits that acupuncture provides (see under Acupuncture). LLLT is helpful in needle-shy animals, stimulating a larger number of acupuncture points than I would normally treat using needles, or in conjuction with traditional needling acupuncture to help stimulate acupoints in a different method than needling since energy is applied into the meridian and often the effects of acupuncture of increased with the addition of LLLT.
WHAT KIND OF LASER IS BEING USED?
A MicroLight 830 nm laser is used for LLLT. This laser was chosen due to its efficacy proven with FDA studies and approval. The ML-830 laser uses light waves between 820-840 nanometers, which have a low absorption rate to allow the light energy to permeate deeply. Light energy passes through intact cells and is absorbs by compropmised cells which allows light energy to effectively benefit those cells in need. In addition, light energy is able to permeate deep to where acupuncture points are found at the nerve endings, or between fascia layers, without the use of needles.
WHAT CAN BE EXPECTED FROM THE LASER TREATMENT?
For most pets, laser therapy is quite passive. If LLLT is being used for acupuncture, the effect will also depend on the acupuncture points stimulated. There are no pulsating shocks felt, nor heat emitted with laser therapy. The most noted sensation is the touch of the probe head of the laser as it comes into contact with the skin and/or hair.
Following (and even during) a laser therapy session, approximatley 75-80% of patients being treated will have improvement of their condition. The response will depend primarily on the type of condition and the length of time the condition was present. Generally, the more chronic or severe the conditionm, the longer it will take to respond. The majority of conditions treated will take anywhere from 4-5 or 10-18 treatments. Once again, the number of treatments depends upon th severity and duration of the condition. If the condition does not change immediately, it may take a minimum of 3 sessions before a dramatic or marked change is perceived. LLLT for acupuncture results will also vary based on the TCVM (traditional chinese veterinary medicine) examination diagnosis and examination.
Information above courtesy of the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery and MicroLight Veterinary Laser