Laser therapy is a popular technique to treat a wide range of physical conditions in modern-day medicine. There are several forms of laser therapies, which work differently and treat different conditions. The two most common ones are high-power and low-level laser therapies.
Whereas high-power laser therapy cuts or destroys tissue, low-level laser treatment has been proven to stimulate the healing of damaged tissues, relieve pain, and enhance cell function. We focus only on one type in this article— low-level laser therapy.
For low-level laser therapy to be effective, it must be performed by a qualified practitioner. At Suarez Physical Therapy, we have certified practitioners with many years of experience. Our physical therapists will offer you quality treatment to ensure you achieve the best possible outcome.
If you want to undergo low-level laser therapy in Las Vegas, Nevada, or your doctor recommends that you do it, please reach out to us for advice. We will first assess your situation before embarking on the treatment.
Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT) Overview
A laser is a device that stimulates molecules and atoms to generate light at particular wavelengths and amplifies that light, producing a very narrow radiation beam. Therefore, LLLT is a kind of therapy whereby low intensities of light are used to alleviate or treat various conditions. Specifically, it involves using light to enhance tissue healing and reduce inflammation and pain. LLLT is also called photobiomodulation (PBM) or cold laser.
It is called a ‘cold’ laser since the low-intensity light used for treatment cannot heat the body’s tissue cells. The intensity of light is lower than that of other types of laser therapies, for instance, the ones used to coagulate tissue and destroy tumors. Aesthetic and surgical laser treatments heat the tissues being treated, but LLLT doesn’t.
Even though you will feel the laser device touch your skin during therapy, the procedure is non-invasive and painless. It emits just a single wavelength of light and produces no sound, heat, or vibration. The therapy targets tissue cells to alleviate pain. Usually, tissue cells communicate with one another by use of light. When they are diseased or injured, the kind of light generated changes because it is distorted. Laser therapy utilizes a ‘healthy’ light wavelength to reprogram diseased or injured cells, repairing the damaged cells and helping in a rapid recovery.
How Is Treatment Done?
A cold laser is a handheld device used by physical therapists and is usually the size of a flashlight. The physical therapist places the laser directly onto the area the treatment targets for thirty seconds to a few minutes based on its size and the dose the laser device provides.
When the laser is in contact with the skin, it emits a non-thermal red light (healing energy) at varying wavelengths, penetrating through the skin layers, including the epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous layer. The light can penetrate two to five centimeters under the skin at 90mw (molecular weight) and 830 nm (nanometer).
After the healing energy travels through the skin layers and reaches the targeted area, it’s absorbed, after which it interacts with the light-sensitive elements in the cell leading to the restoration of normal cell function. This also enhances the natural healing processes of the body.
You can compare this process to plant photosynthesis— the plant absorbs sunlight. The sunlight is then converted to usable energy so the plant can use it for its growth. Essentially, in LLLT, light energy is converted to biochemical energy. When this happens, the results are that the normal functions of cells are restored. This process also leads to the disappearance of disease symptoms and increases the healing speed of your body. Other effects include:
- The response of your immune system is stimulated.
- Increase in growth hormone production
- Improved lymphatic drainage
The series of events mentioned above eventually result in normalizing injured or damaged tissue, reducing inflammation, pain, edema, and a general reduction in healing time by enhancing intracellular metabolism.
Superficial tissues are generally treated using wavelengths that range from 600 to 700 nm (nanometers). But for deeper penetration, your therapist will use wavelengths ranging from 780 to 950 nm. Each treatment generally takes just a few minutes.
Low-Level Laser Therapy Applications
The primary applications of LLLT are to:
- Relieve pain
- Reduce inflammation (usually occurs within hours or days)
- Speed up tissue regeneration. LLLT stimulates tissue cell proliferation.
Thus, physical therapists usually use this therapy to treat various conditions or alleviate the pain and inflammation caused by them. These conditions include:
Musculoskeletal conditions— LLLT provides patients with an effective, painless and safe treatment that utilizes the body’s natural healing systems to increase joint mobility, alleviate pain, encourage cell regeneration, and promote cell integrity. This therapy has been proven to be effective in treating:
- Muscle strains
- Ligament strains
- Shoulder or hip bursitis
- Whiplash/neck pain
- Tennis elbow
- Knee pain
- Post-operative rehabilitation
- Muscle tears
- Low back pain
- Muscle spasms-related pain
- Sports injuries
- Disc herniation
- It is also useful in helping alleviate swelling and enhance the healing of soft tissues and joints.
Inflammation— Cold laser therapy causes vasodilation. It also activates the lymphatic drainage system to drain interstitial fluid (drains swollen areas). Due to these features, it is ideal for use in treating inflamed areas. For instance, physical therapists use it for treating inflamed mouth tissues and cure pressure ulcerations. They can also use it in treating inflammation as a result of chronic autoimmune ailments.
Aches and chronic/acute pain— It is believed that pain originates from the transformation of sodium and potassium ions in a cell membrane. LLLT increases cell membrane porousness, causing the expulsion of potassium and reabsorption of sodium molecules. This expulsion and reabsorption lowers the rate of this transformation and thus the pain signal at the source. Due to how this therapy works, physical therapists usually use it to help patients with chronic or acute pain associated with medical conditions, like fibromyalgia.
Skin rejuvenation— LLLT is used in boosting skin rejuvenation. Physical therapists use it in treating different skin problems such as psoriasis, acne or acne scars, vitiligo, burns, edema (swelling of the skin), staged pressure ulcers, rashes, and dermatitis.
Wound healing— Low-level laser therapy can also be used in treating a hard-to-heal wounds, including diabetes-related ones. This therapy speeds up each of the three stages associated with natural wound-healing— inflammation, proliferation, and remodeling. The outcome is reduced inflammation and pain, increased capillary production, and increased connective tissue stimulation, leading to enhanced blood flow during proliferation.
Acupuncture treatment— Acupuncture generally involves the use of needles. However, some clients aren’t usually comfortable with needles, and they would instead not go ahead with the treatment. If you are this kind of patient, there is a solution for you to undergo the acupuncture treatment comfortably, which is visiting a physical therapist. The cold laser beams stimulate acupoints similarly to needles without piercing the skin.
Arthritis— So far, no clinically tested method has been proven to be highly effective for arthritis. Whereas it’s a chronic condition with no cure, cold laser therapy can provide significant relief from its symptoms by eliminating pain, reducing inflammation of the joints, enhancing immune cell production and efficiency, and increasing the joints’ range of motion.
Gout— A gout attack can be curtailed, and the symptoms reduced. LLLT eases pain, inhibits inflammation, and reduces joint tenderness and swelling.
Carpal tunnel syndrome and other neuralgic pain— LLLT can be highly effective for carpal tunnel syndrome when correctly diagnosed. Here, cold laser therapy works by eliminating or reducing pain and reducing edema. If this condition is treated early, complete reduction of symptoms can be achieved through cold laser treatment alone. But for carpal tunnel syndrome that has existed for a long time, it’s most useful as a complementary measure. If you have undergone surgery, LLLT’s ability to enhance wound-healing and relieve pain makes it the best therapy for optimal postoperative recovery.
Future LLLT Applications
The possibility for new uses of LLLT is limitless. Physical therapy researchers continue to study its application to help treat more conditions and ailments, including spinal cord injury, TBI (traumatic brain injury), Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Contraindications for Low-Level Laser Therapy
The use of LLLT is growing in traditional medical practices and as an alternative or complementary therapy. It is approved by the United States FDA (Food and Drug Administration) for various conditions like those mentioned above. LLLT is deemed safe when conducted with a skilled physical therapist or under a physician or certified practitioner’s care. Even better, it does not require any medications or other preparations either.
However, you shouldn’t undergo LLLT if you have certain conditions because it could be dangerous for you. The treatment is also not to be performed on given parts of the body. The conditions and body parts for which cold laser therapy is contraindicated include:
- Cancer— Don’t let the therapist treat over the site of any known secondary metastasis or primary carcinoma unless you are undergoing chemotherapy, in which case cold laser therapy can be used to relieve side effects like mucositis. However, cold laser therapy can be an option in terminally-ill cancer patients for palliative relief.
- Epilepsy— Note that low frequency pulsed visible light may trigger a seizure in a photosensitive, epileptic patient. The LLLT’s adverse effects have been reported to be similar to those reported by patients exposed to placebo devices in trials.
- Pregnancy— As it is not known how LLLT can affect unborn children, it is recommended that you should avoid it if you are pregnant. If you must receive this kind of treatment, your therapist shouldn’t treat directly over the developing fetus. It can be used on pregnant women to treat back pain, etc.
- Eyes— Your therapist shouldn’t aim laser beams directly in the eyes. Everyone present has to put on appropriate safety spectacles.
- Thyroid— There’s no proof of harm, and there’s some evidence of benefit for curing Hashimoto’s thyroiditis using LLLT. However, as with most things in life, too much of what’s good for you may be harmful as well. So it’s likely that a higher intensity laser treatment directly on the thyroid may temporarily inhibit or stimulate certain thyroid activity. However, LLLT LED treatments usually use relatively low-level light and thus are far less likely to trigger any adverse effects when treating this region of the neck.
How to Start Your LLLT Treatment
Starting your LLLT is straightforward as there is no preparation involved. The steps involved are:
- The first step towards your treatment is calling a physical therapist to book an appointment for your initial consultation.
- During this initial consultation, your physical therapist will assess your current condition. They’ll consider your general lifestyle, health, and activities. Then, they will devise a treatment plan that will yield the best possible outcome. They might give you simple exercises to continue doing at home. Your therapist will explain the treatment plan and the number of sessions your condition will need.
- Your therapist delivers your first therapy treatment session at the initial appointment. He/she outlines a treatment plan to relieve the pain you are experiencing first. They’ll then outline a long-term one to make sure your problem is fixed permanently.
Effects begin to be evident after only one treatment session. Most patients notice a substantial improvement in their recovery and pain symptoms within three to four sessions, but a full treatment is about twelve sessions. Your therapist is likely to combine this with other modes of treatment to provide you with the best possible outcome.
Generally, you won’t feel any effects of the laser device during the therapy. A few patients might feel a warming sensation around the area being treated. After the session, you may feel immediate relief, and occasionally, it could take three to four episodes to experience an improvement.
LLLT Therapy Can Be Used at Home
LLLT devices are available for use at home. In case you are considering buying a device to use at the comfort of your home, you need to consider a few critical things:
- Firstly, lasers are different in terms of their output. Some might not work as they’re marketed to, and some are non-laser LEDs (Light-emitting diodes)
- Secondly, some LLLT products marketed for use at home make exaggerated claims about what they’re capable of doing. Some advertise that they can help you stop smoking, grow hair, or lose weight, while others are marketed to be capable of treating high blood pressure, migraines, and other problems like wrinkles. Some of the claims might be unsubstantiated.
The Cost of Low-Level Laser Therapy Treatment
Each therapy session costs about $75. Studies have shown that following through with a twelve-session treatment is recommended for the best outcome. If you opt to purchase an eleven-session package, some physical therapy practices will provide the 12th one free of charge. Insurance doesn’t usually the cost of LLLT visits, but your health savings accounts or flexible spending may cover.
LLLT Side Effects, Drawbacks, and Benefits
Since cold laser therapy is safe and effective, there are no known long-term side effects of this form of light therapy. Apart from protecting your eyes from the laser’s infrared or red light, the FDA hasn’t found any other adverse side effects or red flags from using cold laser therapy. Since the emitted light doesn’t cause burning of your skin, there’s no danger of pain unless under specific conditions.
The primary drawback of LLLT may be time. Whereas each therapy session takes only a few minutes, it might take as long as one month (with as many as four treatments per week before gauging how effective it is). Your insurance may also not cover this treatment.
LLLT benefits outweigh both the side effects and drawbacks. Thus, if you wish to undergo this therapy, you shouldn’t be discouraged by the side effects you might face or the drawbacks it has. One of the primary upsides of this therapy is that it reduces recovery time. If your condition would normally take two months to heal, LLLT can shorten it by a month. Other benefits include:
- It doesn’t require additional medication, for instance, pain-relieving medication or anesthesia.
- No preparation is needed before you have this treatment.
- It is painless and non-invasive
- It is cost-effective
- It strengthens your immune system
- It enhances blood flow
Find an Experienced Physical Therapist Near Me
At Suarez Physical Therapy, we strive to keep up with the latest medical innovations to provide our clients with the best treatment. Our physical therapists have a proven track record of providing cutting-edge treatment solutions in Las Vegas, Nevada. We have been performing cold laser therapy for several years now, and due to our clients’ positive feedback, we can proudly say that all our treatments have had high success rates.
You can be part of the clients who recovered from health conditions that seemed not to go away for a long time until they sought low-level laser therapy. Call us now at 702-368-6778. We will schedule a comprehensive consultation and assess your health condition before proceeding with the low-level laser therapy.