Laser technology is a rapidly growing sector of the medical community. Today lasers are used in vision correction, hair removal, skin treatments, pain relief, and surgery. Therapeutic lasers utilize lower powers that can non-thermally and nondestructively alter cellular function. This phenomenon, known as laser biostimulation, is the basis for the current use of lasers to treat a variety of articular, neural and soft tissue conditions. The FDA approved therapeutic laser use in the United States in 2002; however, this technology has been available in Europe for over 30 years.
Lasers produce their effects by igniting a cascade of reactions in the body similar to the synthesis of Vitamin D made by our skin. As sunlight is absorbed, the skin darkens due to the production of melanin by melanocytes. Similarly, lasers produce their biological effects as a result of photochemical reactions (rather than thermal) that occur in various cell types of the body. These cells possess chromophores, components of molecules which absorb light. The stimulation of these chromophores on mitochondria membranes (energy producers of the cells), increase the production of ATP. Research has shown the biological effects of therapeutic lasers to: (1) stabilize cell membranes (2) increase ATP (energy) production and synthesis (3) decrease C-reactive protein and neopterin levels (4) accelerate leukocyte activity (5) enhance lymphocyte response (6) reduce interleukin 1 (7) increase prostaglandin synthesis (8) enhance levels of super oxide dismutase (9) increase angiogenesis (formation of new blood cells) (10) stimulate vasodilation (11) temperature modulation (12) decrease pain and nociception.
From over 2,500 scientific studies in the National Library of Medicine, some of the benefits from laser therapy and the effects of healing reported include: promotion of tissue repair, improved wound healing, faster recovery from nerve injury, improved reinnervation, improved quality of life in chronic pain, reduced pain in post-herpetic neuralgia, reduced pain in sprains and strains, reduced scar tissue in muscle injury, improved range of motion, and injury healing is faster and of better quality (stronger tissues).
Varying wavelengths of light determine the depth for which the laser can reach. Currently there are four classes of lasers, each with differing depths of penetration. Class I, II, and III lasers are made up of CD players, printers, scanners, pointers, and early therapeutic low level lasers. Newer low level lasers and LEDs (light emitting diodes) are considered class IIIb. Numerous therapeutic lasers on the market and in abundant physical therapy and chiropractic clinics are included in this category. Their depth of penetration is very limited thus restricting their effectiveness for deep tissues and joints of the body. Class IV lasers are the most powerful therapeutic lasers on the market allowing the wavelengths of light to reach structures up to 5 inches in the body. As such, conditions involving spinal discs, hip joints, shoulder joints, knee joints, and nerves, may be reached.
Sports medicine doctors in particular are turning their attention towards therapeutic lasers due to the improved healing times of musculoskeletal injuries. The addition of lasers in the sporting arena allows for optimal tissue regeneration and repair with less residual problems, making laser therapy an integral part of an athletes rehabilitation. The New England Patriots implemented laser technology as part of their treatment just prior to their Super Bowl victory in 2004. Other professional sports teams include the Chicago White Sox, Milwaukee Brewers, the Toronto Blue Jays, and the Cincinnati Bengals. Cyclist, Lance Armstrong, has used laser therapy for years to recover from injuries. Conditions such as tendinopathies, carpal tunnel syndrome, myofascial trigger points, lateral epicondylitis, ligament sprains, muscle strains, repetitive stress injuries, chondromalacia patellae, plantar fasciitis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, herpes zoster, post-traumatic injury, trigeminal neuralgia, fibromyalgia, diabetic neuropathy, burns, deep edema/congestion, sports injuries, and auto related injuries may benefit from laser therapy.
The rehabilitation team at Fitness Quest 10 utilizes the class IV K-Laser to treat many of the professional athletes and clientele for optimal healing results. To find out if laser therapy is appropriate for your condition, or to answer additional questions, please contact Water and Sports Physical Therapy at 858-488-3597 or Dr. Jennifer Reiner at Chiro@waterandsportsPT.com.
Dr. Jennifer Reiner is the chiropractor for Water and Sports Physical Therapy and the University of California San Diego. She obtained a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Exercise Science from the University of Florida and went on to pursue a Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic West. As a member of the Palmer West Sports Council, Dr. Reiner focused her studies on sports injuries and rehabilitation.
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Reidar Aarskog, PT, Msc, Rodrigo A. B. Lopes-Martins, MPharm, PhD, and Jan M. Bjordal, PT, PhD
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