Low Level Laser for Musculoskeletal Pain and More
90% or more of my clients come to me for help with acute and/or chronic pain. Though I have a broad range of skills within the framework of massage therapy, I have, from early on in my practice, been committed to learn as many adjunct therapies and techniques to enhance the healing process as possible. I have found in practice there is not simply one way that works for everyone or in every situation. The body is complex and the healing process is complex. One modality may achieive a certain level of healing and another modality or technique will take it to the next level of healing, with the goal being complete resolution of the condition and underlying issues keeping it active.
So it is within this context I am thrilled to have another tool to enhance the healing process, the Low Level Light Laser.
For over forty years, low level laser (light) therapy (LLLT) and LED (light emitting diode) therapy (also known as photobiomodulation) has been shown to reduce inflammation and edema, induce analgesia, and promote heling in a range of musculoskeletal pathologies. (1)
Inflammation certainly has a role in healing, but when not properly resolved in a appropriate amount of time, inflammation can be a double edged sword causing pain (thus creating a self-perpetuating cycle of pain-inflammation-pain) and eventually creates a build up of scar tissue (that in itself causes restriction-pain-inflammation cycle). Left untreated the resulting biomechanical compensations for the pain (limping, altered posture, using other muscle groups not specifically intended for the task) lead to further pain and restrictions. The use of pain killers over an extended time adds another layer of self-perpetuating issues.
So what is LLT and how can it be of help?
Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT) sometimes known as Low Level Light Therapy or Photobiomodulation is a low intensity light therapy. The effect is photochemical not thermal. The light triggers biochemical changes within cells and can be compared to the process of photosynthesis in plants, where the photons are absorbed by cellular photoreceptors and triggers chemical changes.
LLLT is the application of light (usually a low powered laser or LED typically power range of (10mW-5oomW). Light with a wavelength in the red to near infrared region of the spectrum (660nm-905nm), is generally employed because these wavelengths have the ability to penetrate skin, and soft/hard tissues (see graph in referenced article) and are proven in clinical trials to have a good effect on pain, inflammation and tissue repair. The power density (irradiance) is usually between 5W/cm² and is applied to an injury or to a painful site for 30-60 seconds a few times a week for several weeks. The result is a reduction of inflammation, pain relief and accelerated tissue regeneration. (1) (Note: I highly recommend reading the full article referenced for the list of conditions and treatment of pain with references)
To simplify (for the sake of this post) some of the conditions LLLT has been shown helpful in resolving:
The Allergy AntidotesTM lasers contain light emitting semiconductor chips, driven by a low voltage power supply with a wavelength of 635nm or higher. These lasers are used in low level laser therapy (LLLT) to accelerate tissue repair, including wound healing, and for the alleviation of skin conditions such as acne, scarring, and wrinkles.
The essential feature of healing lasers is the refined, single wavelength of the light beams. The wavelengths are measured in nanometers (nm). Shorter wavelengths have lower nanometers, such as those in x-ray equipment, which have nanometers in the single and double digits. Alternately, the higher the nanometers, the longer the wavelength. In lasers with a wavelength above 600nm, like the SL50 Home Laser, SoftLaser Plus, and e-Tox laser, the light will not damage DNA and is extremely safe for therapeutic uses – Low-Light Laser therapy is also used successfully on animals (dogs, cats, and horses), both at home and in veterinary treatments.
Furthermore, healing lasers at 635nm are the exact vibration of a healthy living cell. In acupuncture, lasers with a beam at 635nm are the equivalent to using a needle, and they have been used in acupuncture for years. Using a laser beam at that frequency heals the cells of the body and easily stimulates acupuncture points (Meridian Points).
Remarkably, LLLT can also reduce both acute and chronic pain. Although many of the reports of pain relief following exposure to LLLT are anecdotal, there have been a number of reports based on trials aimed at assessing LLLT as an analgesic modality.(Excerpted from, Low Level Laser Therapy, Mary Dyson PhD, FCSP;Softlaser Guide: p.23, 2011) (2)
Other interesting info and resources:
(1) The Use of Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT) for Musculoskeletal Pain: Howard B Cotler, Roberta T Chow, and James Carroll. https://www.ncbi.nim.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4743666/
(2) Sandi Radomski, Allergy Antidotes: https://www.allergyantidotes.com/about-healing-lasers/
Photobiomodulation Lecture 2015 (Low Level Light Therapy) https://youtu.be/46oBjzW5OJM?list=PL3T11MDoeflaIxYT8inKQ0lrOa569jFpL
Mechanism of action; chart; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4639680/figure/F1/
Pub Med; US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health; 6478 articles with a simple search: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=low+level+laser+therapy