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 laser therapy. Recent innovations in low-level lasers now make it possible for practitioners or consumers to own high quality cold laser equipment. The first cold laser was FDA cleared in 2001. 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 tissue and bone with IR or Red light photons to reduce pain and stimulate healing
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 lasers are FDA cleared and 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 600 to 980nm) that minimizes reflection and scattering but maximized absorption of the the energy (in photons) at a desired 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 lymphatic system or surface scars). For shallow treatments, light emitting diodes (or LEDs) with a shorter wavelength (600 to 700nm) are more cost effective for adding photons to the shallower tissue. In addition, red light diodes with a wavelength of 630 to 680 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. Erchonia is the only company that has product that only operate in the 600 -700 nm wavelengths. Products like the Avant and TerraQuant operate in both the lower and upper wavelengths.
The goal of laser therapy is to deliver light energy units from red and 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 to do eye damage. 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 a plateau. When you exceed the optimum level of photons, you are just wasting your time because all the cells have been triggered. If pain control is the only goal, then higher power lasers are better. If healing is the goal, then lower power are fine.
So, if you want a device to help with pain control only and you are less worried about eye damage, higher power lasers are your best choice. If you are trying to mainly worried about minimizing your risk, choose a lower power system or a pulsing system.
Class 1 & 1m Continuous and Modulated Lasers (Available over-the-counter)
Class 1 lasers are the safest lasers. In fact they are so safe that they can be purchased for home use without any restriction. The problem is that a continuous wave class 1 lasers are very low power. Luckily, there are modulated, pulsed and super-pulsed lasers that provide higher power levels while still qualifying as a class 1 laser because they are pulsed off enough of the time that they have a minimal chance of damaging the eye. Because of their lower cost, class 1 lasers are widely used in practitioner's offices and they have a proven track record. Class 1 therapeutic lasers typically have much longer treatment times and protocol duration than higher power products. They might also target a lower dosage. Just be careful not to buy anything that looks like a laser pointers because it just might be an overpriced fake. Class 1m laser are the best over-the-counter lasers. They are limited to a maximum of 500mW (just like the class 3b) but they can not do eye damage unless the beam is focused. Our most popular product is the TerraQuant series of lasers.
Class 2 Cold Lasers (Available over-the-counter)
Since the development of class 1m laser, class 1 (without the m) and class 2 lasers are the weakest lasers on the market. In many cases, these lasers are about 1/500 the power level of a class 1m or class 3. This class of laser is slowing being phased out.
Class 3 and 3b cold lasers
Class 3b Cold lasers can have up to 500mW per continuous wave beam and still be qualified as a class 3 lasers. Many devices have multiple beam they can have a higher total power. These devices typically require an target light since wavelengths in the IR range are invisible to the naked eye but can still do serious damage to the eye. They may also have a warning tone, a key lock or an interlock. The interlock will automatically turn the laser off when someone opens the door to the treatment room. The most popular class 3b laser we sell is the Avant LZ30x.
Class 4 Continuous Lasers (Only sole to professionals)
Class 4 lasers have the highest ability to do damage to the eye and may cause tissue damage if used improperly. Tissue damage is very rare and the manufacturers work very hard to find the best protocols that will provide a balance between power and safety. If any single laser beam is over 500 milliwatts, the device is a class 4 product but many of the most popular models have multiple beams. This allow for some class 3 lasers to have a combined power that is higher than a class 4. Also Many lasers diverge the beam at 28 to 30 degree angle to cover a wider area so they have better healing results. This also results in a safer product. The Apollo lasers use 4 divergent beams to produce 5 watts of power without the risk of tissue damage (it still has ability to do eye damage). The increase in the power of class 4 continuous wave lasers shortens treatment times which is critical for practitioner's like pain clinics but typically less critical for the average user. All Class 4 lasers require some type of safely interlock on the device to prevent accidental exposure.
In general, the class of a cold laser is proportional to the ability to do damage to the eye but it is NOT proportional to the efficacy of the product. There are definitely products on the market with too little power to be very effective or too much power to make sense for most users. If you call 1-800-388-0850, we can help you find the amount of power for your application.
Today, lasers are used extensively in the traditional 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.
ColdLasers.Org sells a wide range of product from class I to class IV lasers. If you are looking for a health care provider in your area, you can check out our limited directory of practitioners with cold lasers. If you are considering buying a therapeutic laser, you can read our guides to cold lasers for home use, cold lasers for office use, and lasers for equine therapy.