The idea that light energy from a laser can reduce pain and inflammation, accelerate the healing of damaged tissues, relax muscles and stimulate nerve regeneration seems far-fetched. However, science tells us that these effects do occur. The question is to what extent and is it based on wavelength and power?
Wavelength and power determine the capacity of the laser to penetrate the body. Once you’re in the infrared spectrum and wavelengths above 800 nanometers, laser energy penetrates like x-rays, but you need significant power or energy to reach depth. “A 10-minute treatment with a 30-watt laser produces 18,000 joules, which has a significant anti-pain, anti-inflammatory and healing effect.”
Two Types or Classes Used in Physical Therapy
Two classes of lasers are used in physical therapy; classes 3 and 4. “Class 3 lasers have less than 500 milliwatts (mw), while class 4 lasers have more than 500 mw,”. Class 3 lasers are sometimes referred to as cold lasers and the therapy may be called LLLT for Low Level Laser Therapy. In contrast, Class 4 laser therapy is sometimes called HPLT for high power laser therapy.
Most neuromusculoskeletal conditions respond better to higher power and higher dose, which is a function of power and time. You will get the best results with a laser that has a power of 30 watts or more. A 10-minute treatment with a 30-watt laser creates 18,000 joules, which has a significant anti-pain, anti-inflammatory and healing effect.
Patients usually begin to feel better after 1 or 2 treatments, although 5 or more treatments may be required to resolve the problem. The more chronic and extensive the injury, the more treatment is usually needed.
Features of High-Power Laser Therapy
The laser reduces nerve sensitivity by reducing bradykinin; a chemical that causes pain. It normalizes ion channels [cell gatekeepers] and releases endorphins [the body’s natural pain reliever] and enkephalins [related to endorphins], which have an analgesic effect. It also has a pain-blocking effect on certain nerve fibers.
Anti-inflammatory/Healing: “Laser increases ATP, which is stored energy [ATP is the acronym for adenosine triphosphate]. This increased energy accelerates the repair processes of the cell. Laser also causes a widening of the arteries and veins around the injury which helps to remove damaged cellular debris and increase nutrients and oxygen. White blood cell activity is enhanced leading to a more rapid repair process. Also, some molecules that increase inflammation are reduced, and beneficial antioxidants like superoxide dismutase are increased.
Accelerated Tissue Repair and Cell Growth: “Photons of light from lasers penetrate deeply into tissue and accelerate cellular reproduction and growth. As a result of exposure to laser light, the cells of tendons, ligaments, nerves and muscles are repaired faster.”
Improved Vascular Activity: “Laser light increases the formation of new capillaries in damaged tissue, which speeds up the healing process, and closes wounds quickly.”
Trigger and Acupuncture Points: “Laser is particularly effective in extinguishing painful trigger points. It is also an effective way of stimulating acupuncture points without the discomfort associated with needling.”
Reduced Fibrous Tissue Formation: “Laser therapy reduces the formation of scar tissue following tissue damage from repetitive motion injuries, cuts, scratches, burns or surgery.”
Faster Wound Healing: “Laser light stimulates the building blocks of collagen, which is important in the wound healing of damaged tissues. Collagen is the essential protein required to replace old tissue or to repair injuries. As a result, the laser is effective on open wounds and burns.”
Stem Cell Activation: “Laser increases the number of stem cells, which enhances healing.