How It Works
What is Cold Laser Treatment?
LLLT, also called cold laser therapy or photobiomodulation therapy, is a type of phototherapy designed to repair tissue, reduce pain and inflammation, target fat and provide other benefits for patients in both medical and veterinary treatments. The capabilities of low-level lasers have been used in fat loss and pain relief for over 50 years.
During a treatment regimen, a small device emitting laser beam or visible nonthermal lasers is placed over the target area. The low levels of light penetrate the tissue without heating or damaging the skin.
Unlike traditional lasers, which use around 300 watts, cold lasers use between five and 500 milliwatts. True to their name, they don’t burn the skin or produce pain, and the FDA gives them NHN (non-heating instruments) classification. In contrast, a laser used for surgeries cuts through the skin and can lead to severe scarring and pain.
How Low-Level Lasers can be Used for Pain Relief
Cold lasers can stimulate all types of cells, including muscle, ligaments, nerves and cartilage. This stimulation of light energy works similar to photosynthesis in plants, as it is absorbed and interacts with light-sensitive components in the body’s cells. The treatment promotes the body’s natural healing — which may have been impeded through the tissue damage — by stimulating mitochondria and encouraging the cells to produce more ATP.
As a non-invasive procedure, LLLT can be performed at an outpatient clinic, providing a distinct advantage over traditional laser surgery. There is no recovery time and no side effects, which makes LLLT an attractive treatment option for a variety of conditions, including:
- Low Back Pain
- Neck and Shoulder pain
- Plantar Fasciitis
- Post-Operative Wound Healing
A Safe Symptom-Relief Solution for Numerous Conditions
Since 1967, more than 2,500 studies have been conducted on the safety and effectiveness of LLLT in providing relief from pain and other symptoms. Many of these studies attest to its reliability in treating these conditions and recommend the treatment as a preferred non-invasive technique.
How Does Laser Therapy Work?
While the benefits of photobiomodulation have been observed in medical studies, the mechanisms that lead to these results are still being studied. Though we still have plenty to learn about the effects of light energy on different types of cells, the general consensus is that light therapy works primarily by affecting the mitochondria inside human cells.
The primary idea behind photobiology is that when light hits certain molecules, called chromophores, the energy of the photon causes electrons in those molecules to be excited and jump into higher-energy orbits, effectively storing energy within the molecule. The mitochondria of the cell are thought to contain such chromophores, allowing them to store more energy to be used in the biochemical processes that mitochondria complete. Mitochondria then utilize this energy to increase the production of essential substances in the body. The most important of these are the following:
- Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP): ATP is functionally the energy storage molecule for the human body, used in virtually all of the biochemical processes that allow us to function. This includes processes that help our bodies to grow and heal.
- Reactive Oxygen Series (ROS): ROS is a mild oxidant that is essential in the gene transcription process, which is a critical part of cellular repair and healing.
- Nitric Oxide (NO): Nitric oxide is an essential molecule in the body’s cellular communication system, helping transmit signals through the body, which can help improve overall body healing. Nitric oxide is also helpful in dilating blood vessels to improve circulation.
Several other mechanisms are likely improved through the use of laser therapy. For example, NO improves the production of cyclic guanine monophosphate, which is involved in other signaling pathways in the body. Laser therapy also improves the synthesis of DNA and RNA, which in turn promotes the production of proteins and growth factors in the body.
Laser Therapy Benefits
The biological processes promoted by laser therapy result in various health benefits to users, each of which has been studied at length. A few of the benefits of laser therapy are discussed in detail below:
1. Pain Reduction
Pain is the most common reason that people see doctors in the United States, with one in three Americans affected by chronic pain each year. Low-level laser treatment has been explored in various studies as a method of decreasing several types of pain, including the following:
- Orthopedic pain: Low-level light therapy has had pain-reducing effects on patients recovering from sprains, whiplash, muscular pain, cervical or lumbar radiculopathy, tendinitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. It has also shown positive effects on individuals with chronic conditions like arthritis and osteoarthritis. It may even be effective at treating post-surgical pain, and one study showed that low-level light therapy was an effective tool in managing pain for patients recovering from total hip arthroplasty surgeries.
- Neuropathic pain: Neuropathic pain conditions can be treated effectively with photobiomodulation, including various types of neuralgia and diabetic neuropathy.
Laser therapy treatment has also been effective in managing pain for athletes recovering from training or injuries It is thought that the reason low-level laser therapy is so effective is that it stimulates the nerve endings of nociceptors, or pain receptors, that lie close to the skin.
2. Fat Reduction
Multiple studies have been conducted to determine whether low-level laser treatment can be used for fat reduction with positive results overall. One review found that laser therapy is effective at reducing fat and cellulite and improving blood lipid profiles with little to no side effects. The current theory as to why laser therapy is so effective in this area is that laser therapy helps induce adipocyte apoptosis, releasing stored fat from the body.
3. Inflammation Management
Laser therapy treatment has been widely regarded as an effective way to manage and reduce inflammation in a variety of applications. Athletic programs commonly use low-light laser therapy to help reduce inflammation and promote muscle recovery for training or injured athletes. Additionally, medical practices have used laser therapy as a way to manage inflammation for patients recovering from various injuries. One study showed that low-level light therapy effectively reduced post-surgery inflammation for patients recovering from total hip arthroplasty surgeries.
The primary mechanism by which light therapy helps reduce inflammation is vasodilation. In vasodilation, small arteries and lymph vessels increase in size, allowing inflammation, swelling and edema to move away from injury sites. Not only does this mechanism reduce inflammation, but it also improves the healing process overall.
Low-Level Laser Application Areas
While laser therapy has numerous potential benefits that are still being researched, several practical applications are already on the market. Below are a few of the more common laser applications in which Erchonia Corporation lasers specializes:
1. Chronic Low Back Pain
About 80% of adults experience low back pain at some point in their lives. Of those adults, approximately 60% are treated with opioids, despite the potential for addiction and the minimal value of opioids in long-term applications. Erchonia’s FX 635 laser showed a 72% success rate in their clinical trial, which received FDA market clearance in May 2018. The FX 635 treatment of chronic low back pain is groundbreaking in the pain management field and gives patients a safer, more effective treatment option.
2. Neck and Shoulder Pain
Various low-level lasers have been shown to be effective in reducing and eliminating acute and chronic neck and shoulder pain. Many patients find that low-level lasers are more effective and work faster than traditional pain medications. Combined with physical therapy and chiropractic treatments, Erchonia lasers can help patients live a normal, healthy, active life without debilitating pain.
3. Body Contouring
Erchonia lasers are proven to target and eliminate fat in areas that are difficult to reduce with regular diet and exercise. The Zerona laser is proven to stimulate the body at a cellular level, targeting these difficult areas.
The Erchonia EML laser is approved as an addition to traditional liposuction surgery. It is the first and only low-level laser to be given FDA market clearance for use before and during liposuction treatments. The painless laser treatment is applied before liposuction to liquefy the fat, making it easier to remove during the surgery. In addition to improving surgery outcomes, the application of this low-level laser has been shown to reduce post-operative pain and bruising and decrease overall recovery time.
Do Low-Level Lasers Actually Work?
Though low-level laser treatment is a relatively new field of medicine, the results speak for themselves. As the studies mentioned above show, patients recovering from injuries, surgeries and more can expect excellent results from low-level laser therapy, and people looking to improve their hair, skin and pain outcomes already have options available to them.
It is important to note, however, that low-level laser treatments may not be the best option for everyone. Pregnant women, for example, are not recommended to pursue laser therapy treatments since the effects on fetuses are not well understood. Results may also vary per person — the number of treatments needed may vary depending on the condition, the severity of this condition and the patient’s response to treatment.
Despite it being a relatively new field of study, cold lasers are still being studied at length for their potential benefits. Laser therapy applications are currently being studied for use against viruses, scars, burns, wound healing and much more.