Laser therapy can accelerate your body’s natural healing process through photobiostimulation, also called photobiomodulation. Here’s some more information about how laser therapy works, the types of laser therapy available, and the conditions it can help treat.
During photobiomodulation therapy (PBM), non-ionizing light transfers photons to the electrons in cellular molecules, bringing them to a higher energy state without causing cellular damage. PBM can use lasers, LED lights, and infrared lights.
Photons or light waves enter the tissue and interact with cytochrome c, one of the proteins in mitochondria. Often called the powerhouses of cells, mitochondria are essential for cellular metabolism. Cytochrome c increases mitochondrial metabolism, accelerating healing and decreasing pain. It’s part of the electron transport chain, the process that synthesizes adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP transports energy for cellular functions. Stimulating ATP production — by transferring photons to cytochrome c — provides more energy for healing.
Laser stimulation also produces free nitric oxide, a powerful vasodilator that helps increase circulation. Lasers can also modulate reactive oxygen species to decrease inflammation, reduce pain, and prevent apoptosis or cell death.
Laser therapy is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and in some cases, it can be a viable alternative to surgery or drugs. When used correctly, it has no known side effects. One treatment session takes about 15 to 30 minutes, and, usually, you don’t feel any sensation from the laser being pointed at the treatment area. Most people need four to six treatments for best results. In some areas, a round massager on the end of the laser helps penetrate deeper into tissue. We use LightForce lasers by LiteCure, LLC.
Class III laser therapy, also called Class IIIb laser therapy, uses lasers with power outputs between 5 and 500 milliWatts (mW). Class IIIb lasers can cause damage if you look at them directly for too long or if they’re applied in the same spot for a long period. These lasers are typically used for areas directly beneath or close to the skin. Only a trained professional should operate these devices.
Class IV lasers have power outputs above 500 mW or 0.5 Watts. These lasers can cause damage to eyes and skin if used incorrectly, and eye damage can occur even if you look at the laser indirectly. Class IV lasers are sometimes called photothermal lasers because they can produce heat and cause burns unless operated by trained professionals.
The maximum power output for a laser is different from the wavelength, and some Class IIIb and IV lasers have the same wavelength. Laser therapy wavelengths range from 600 nanometers (nm) to 1,000 nm. Light with these wavelengths can penetrate the skin and promote healing in muscle tissue. Lasers with wavelengths from 600 to 700 nm can send light 1 to 2 centimeters into tissue, which works well for treating skin problems and wounds. Wavelengths from 800 to 900 nm can go 3 to 4 centimeters into tissue, and doctors use these lasers primarily to treat pain.
An 810 nm wavelength can help red blood cells carry oxygen to different parts of the body and improve the healing of damaged muscles and tendons. It also promotes the distribution of calcium, an essential vitamin for bone health and cell communication. A 910 nm wavelength also increases calcium distribution, as well as reducing pain, stimulating circulation, and relaxing muscles. Doctors sometimes call lasers with lower wavelengths low-level laser therapy (LLLT). Lasers with higher wavelengths are called deep tissue lasers because they can penetrate deeper into the body.
Dr. Schoene can use a variety of Class IIIb and Class IV lasers at different wavelengths. She’ll decide which type of laser can benefit you most. Conditions that a laser can help treat include:
Along with promoting healing, oxygen distribution, and reducing inflammation, laser therapy can stimulate immunoglobin and lymphocytes, two essential components of the immune system. It can also reduce scar tissue. According to the National Library of Medicine’s National Center for Biotechnology Information, LLLT can help reduce chronic foot and ankle joint pain. Many people use it to treat inflammation related to type 1 or 2 diabetes.
Laser therapy can also reduce chronic pain from joint stress due to obesity or other issues. It can help runners and other athletes reduce pain and soreness; in many cases, it can permanently eliminate pain, inflammation, and other problems. That way, you won’t need to take pain medication or return to the doctor for regular treatments. While most people need more than one laser therapy session, laser treatment has a defined end.
Exercise can help prevent obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and strokes. It can also increase bone mass and help prevent age-related bone loss and fractures. Laser therapy can reduce chronic pain that prevents people from enjoying physical activities, which improves their health.
Gurnee Podiatry & Sports Medicine Associates can help you recover from injuries or other issues and get moving again. Dr. Lisa M. Schoene is a sports medicine specialist, podiatrist, and certified athletic trainer, and she’s been practicing since the early 1990s. She’s worked with many Olympic, professional, semi-professional, and elite athletes, including runners, dancers, skaters, gymnasts, football players, soccer players, basketball players, and volleyball players. Dr. Schoene is a faculty member at the Dr. William M. Scholl College of Podiatric Medicine at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, and she lectures to medical students regularly.