Laser stands for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation. Cold or low-level laser therapy (LLLT) is relatively new in the United States, having gained FDA approval in 2002. It has, however, been used for many years in other parts of the world, including Canada, Australia, Europe and some Asian countries.
How does laser treatment reduce patients' pain?
Lasers can reduce pain in several ways. One review paper cited the anti-inflammatory effects of laser treatment as similar to those of pharmacologic agents such as celecoxib, meloxicam, diclofenac and dexamethasone.1 Lasers also can control pain by reducing oxidative stress, improving angiogenesis and augmenting collagen synthesis and skeletal repair.2 A randomized controlled trial showed that lasers were able to inhibit transmission at the neuromuscular junction, which reduced nerve firing and pain signaling.3 In a meta-analysis of laser use in people, laser therapy was shown to decrease neck pain immediately, with positive effects that could last up to three months after the end of a treatment series.
What other benefits can laser treatment offer patients?
Lasers also have been shown to improve tendinopathy lesions. Research validates that injured soft tissues exposed to laser light demonstrate an increase in collagen synthesis, improved metabolism of tenocytes or myocytes, increased fibroblastic activity, neovascularization, improved tensile strength, acceleration of the healing process and organization of collagen bundles. LLLT also is widely used and found to be effective in treating chronic joint disorders, enhancing biosynthesis of cartilage, stimulating microcirculation and reducing inflammation in the synovium and synovial fluid.
Bone healing is another indication for LLLT. Improvement is seen as osteoblastic proliferation, bone neoformation, bone stiffness, collagen deposition, amount of well-organized trabeculae and creation of a smaller, stronger callus. Exposure to laser light can also promote wound healing, reducing wound size and healing time. Laser therapy has also shown impressive results in remediation of peripheral nerve injuries and even spinal cord lesions.