Q & A
What is Cold Laser Therapy?
Cold laser therapy is a relatively new technology (about 30 years old) when compared to many alternative therapies like acupuncture (which has been used since 8000-3500 B.C.), chiropractic (since 1895) and physical therapy. Just like the abacus evolved into the computer, many alternative medicine practices are evolving to include light therapy. Recent innovations in low-level lasers now make it possible for the average physician or consumer to own cold laser equipment. Cold lasers are sometimes called Low Level Lasers (LLL) or soft lasers.
In general, cold lasers can be used in 2 distinct ways:
- Targeting acupuncture trigger points (similar to acupuncture but without the needles)
- Broad coverage of deep tissue with laser photons to stimulate changes in the tissue
Cold Laser therapy offers a non-intrusive option to acupuncture and surgery. It also provides a non-addicting treatment that eliminates the complications of long-term drug treatment programs. Cold laser are widely use for treatment of:
- Acute and chronic pain
- Ligament sprains
- Muscle strain
- Soft tissue injuries
- Tennis elbow
- Back pain
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Healing With Cold Lasers
The cold laser produces an impulse of light at a specific wavelength (usually 800 to 900nm) that minimizes reflection and scattering but maximized absorption of the the energy (in photons) at a desire depth.
Some conditions like joint pain require a deep penetration (4-5 inches) that can only be achieved using a powerful laser emitter. Many systems also have other lower wavelengths and lower-power emitters for treating shallow tissue (like the lymph system or surface scars). For shallow treatments, light emitting diodes (or LEDs) with a shorter wavelength (700nm) are more cost effective for adding photons to the shallower tissue. In addition, red light diode with a wavelength of 660 NM may be used to add energy to even shallower levels of tissues. It is the general consensus that wavelengths below 660 nanometers are very easily absorbed in the surface tissue and are not optimized for deep tissue healing.
The goal of laser therapy is to deliver light energy units from infrared laser radiation, called photons, to damaged cells. It is the consensus of experts is that photons absorbed by the cells through laser therapy stimulate the mitochondria to accelerate production of ATP. This biochemical increase in cell energy is used to transform live cells from a state of illness to a stable, healthy state.
Over 4000 studies have been conducted in recent years to validate the effectiveness of cold laser therapy. Cold lasers treatment systems may be cleared by the FDA.
Benefit of Cold Lasers
- Easy to apply
- Extremely safe
- No side effects or pain
- Cost effective for both the practitioner and patient
- Highly effective in treating ailments (more than 90% efficacy)
- Superior alternative to analgesics, NSAID's and other medications
- Reduces the need for surgery
- Works synergistically with other modalities like Chiro, Acupuncture, and PT
General Therapeutic Laser Biological Effects
- Increased Cell Growth: Laser photons accelerates cellular reproduction and growth.
- Increased Metabolic Activity: Photons initiate a higher outputs of specific enzymes, greater oxygen and food particle loads for blood cells and thus greater production of the basic food source for cells, Adenosine Tri-Phosphate (ATP).
- Faster Wound Healing: Cold laser photons stimulates fibroblast development and accelerates collagen synthesis in damaged tissue
- Anti-Inflammatory Action: Laser photons reduce swelling caused by bruising or inflammation of joints resulting in enhanced joint mobility.
- Increased Vascular Activity: Laser photons induce temporary vasodilation that increases blood flow to effected areas.
- Reduced Fibrous Tissue Formation:Laser photons reduce the formation of scar tissue following tissue damage from: cuts, scratches, burns or post surgery.
- Stimulated Nerve Function: Laser photon exposure speeds the process of nerve cell reconnect ion to bring the numb areas back to life.
- Pain Reduction: Almost all systems have a mode of operation specifically designed to reduce pain.
Classes of Cold Lasers
The U.S. government classifies cold laser based on their ability of the laser to do damage, primarily to the eye. Many manufacturers are pushing the power levels to the maximum as a marketing tool. It is true that power is a very important part of laser therapy but more power is not always better. There is an optimum power level like the peak of a mountain. If the tissue gets the optimum level of photons, it has a maximum stimulating effect. Exceeding the optimum power level decreases the stimulation can actually cause inhibition (reduced pain). If pain control is the only goal, then higher power lasers are better. If healing is the goal, then optimum power is the key. Research has also shown that longer treatments at lower power levels produce better results.
So, if you want a device to help with pain control only and you are not worried about safely, higher class lasers are your best choice. If you are trying to maximize healing, more power may be the opposite of what you need.
Class I Continuous and Modulated Lasers
Class I lasers are the safest but unfortunately, they are also the lowest power. The level of power of non-medical lasers can be too low, making them ineffective in delivering photons to deep tissues. This includes laser pointers and other low cost laser diodes.
Class IV Continuous Lasers
Class IV laser have the highest ability to do damage to the eye. In some cases, this can be based on the fact that the emitter is focused and not diffused. Diffused lasers cover a wider area so they have better healing results. Pinpoint lasers are not effective is treating large damaged areas. The increase in the power of class IV continuous wave lasers increases the photon delivery to deep tissues. Unfortunately, it also increases the amount of the heat generated. This heat increases the potential risk of destructive thermal effects. Class IV laser may result in damage to the retina requiring clinicians to exercise additional FDA implemented controls to ensure patient and practitioner safety. This can include a safely lock on the device to prevent accidental exposure.
Modulated Lasers (Class II to III) Modulating or super-pulsing the laser output power (turning it on and off in less than 1 billionth of a second) provides a unique combination of benefits. It allows the use of very high power levels (up to 50 watts) while insuring that there is no heat or damage. The ratio between the on and off times is call the duty cycle. In general a super pulsed laser class II laser can provide more power to the treatment area than a class IV continuous lasers without a risk of damage. Modulated lasers provide a good combination of safety and power.
Today, lasers are used extensively in the medical industry for everything from cosmetic surgery, eye surgery and heart surgery. The ability to put just the right amount of energy into a critical area of the human body has been a huge advancement in the medical field. Cold lasers are an important addition to these other established medical laser treatments and the recent development of low-cost professional cold lasers means that cold laser therapy will be a rapidly growing medical treatment option.