Lasers have been a part of modern Western medicine for many years.
Most of the time when people think of lasers, they imagine cauterization or radiation therapy. But cold lasers work much differently. Cold lasers, also called low level lasers, do not generate heat, and work at low frequencies.
Cold lasers are used to deliver low level laser therapy, which is sometimes called photobiomodulation, or LLLT. The FDA has approved the technique, and studies have shown it to be an effective short-term treatment for pain. However, there are still questions regarding how and why the therapy works.
Whenever a treatment is not fully understood, there may be skeptics, and so is the case with cold lasers. Multiple studies have demonstrated that the technique helps relieve pain, sometimes in instances in which other methods of pain relief have been ineffective. The confusion exists with regard to how the therapy works on the molecular, cellular, and tissue levels.
The range of options for treatment have also raised some questions, as LLLT can include a variety of wavelengths, intensities, a number of treatments, and more variables. In the last few years, light-emitting diodes (LEDs) have been introduced as a less expensive method for delivering LLLT, adding yet another element.
With so many parameters for providing treatment, it is easy to understand why studies and tests performed with differing laser parameters produce a wide array of results and patient outcomes.
In 2010, the National Institutes of Health published a paper titled The Role of Low Level Laser Therapy in Neurorehabilitation. In it, the authors describe exactly how LLLT works at the cellular level. In the most simplistic terms, light causes a photochemical response in the cells, particularly the mitochondria.
The same process can be observed in nature: photosynthesis is an example most people understand. LLLT causes a similar biological response within cells, creating a regenerative effect that is especially useful for treating pain caused by injury or illness impacting the nervous system.
Cold lasers are noninvasive. They emit no heat, sound, or vibration. Nothing appears to be different or happening when they are used. Hot lasers can clearly be observed.
Understanding the best applications for the therapy, as well as knowing the proper parameters for each laser treatment, is imperative for practitioners who offer this service to patients. With the right training and tools, cold laser therapy can be an excellent and effect treatment for pain, and the foremost goal of most chiropractors is to help patients live healthier, pain-free lives.