As a physician, I have generally been resistant to change. My experience with the “latest and greatest” in technology has been disappointing in the past. Frequently a product or therapy will come along that is promoted as the future of the healthcare, only to have completely disappointed a few years later due to poor results or safety concerns. On occasion, however, a new technology is discovered that can genuinely help supplement the healing process. I believe that one of these discoveries is the low level laser.
Photomedicine, also known as cold or low level laser therapy, has been around for many years. Only recently has the technology become efficient and cheap enough to be utilized for musculoskeletal types of injuries. Although the exact cellular mechanism of how light functions to promote healing is complex, the general concept is easy. Light, when introduced at a specific frequency and wavelength into a cell, will jumpstart the mitochondria or “power plants” of a cell. This in turn boosts cellular metabolism and division. The results are faster healing and decreased pain levels.
The application of low level laser therapy is easy and pain free. A wand is applied to the injured area which emits a bright and penetrating light into the tissue. The patient usually only experiences a slight sense of warmth. Results are sometimes seen immediately, but typically within 6 treatments. The best and most surprising results in my clinic have been on chronic injuries such as; tennis elbow, rotator cuff strains, hip bursitis, patellar tendonitis, and low back pain. Over time we have developed treatment protocols that incorporate low level laser therapy with massage therapy, ultrasound, exercise rehabilitation and spinal adjustments. The results have been profoundly positive.
I first heard of photomedicine when it was being used by several high profile professional athletes to recover from injury. In the last several years it has gained popularity and is now being used in the training room of nearly every professional sports team as well as in many progressive chiropractic and physical therapy clinics. The newest sports medicine textbooks now have chapters dedicated to the application of this therapy and the available research is starting to grow on its efficiency. I suspect that in the near future low level laser therapy will become a standard part of the treatment of most musculoskeletal injuries. Although it sounds like science fiction, the results show that the future of laser therapy is now.