Scientifically-backed, effective pain relief options are some of the benefits of cold laser therapy
Unlike lasers used in surgical procedures designed to remove internal tumors or seal lymph or blood vessels, cold laser therapy utilizes levels of light so low that they don’t increase heat within the treated tissues. Thus, the name “cold” laser therapy.
According to research findings, these cold laser applications, which are also referred to as low-level laser therapy (LLLT) or photobiomodulation, are useful for multiple purposes. Two of these purposes are pain relief and enhanced healing.
Cold laser therapy for pain
Diabetes, cancer and heart disease are three medical conditions that most people fear. Yet, the National Institutes of Health shares that more Americans are afflicted by pain than all of these issues combined. In fact, pain is the number one reason people seek medical attention today, in addition to being one of the top causes of disability.
In the recent past, painkillers were often prescribed in an attempt to provide patients relief. However, now that there is growing concern over the opioid overdose crisis — a situation which the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports is responsible for the loss of 130 lives every day in the United States alone — medical practitioners are realizing that this method of treatment actually predisposes patients to more harm than good. Especially when there are other scientifically backed, effective pain relief options, one of which is cold laser therapy.
For instance, in 2009, the Lancet published a systematic review and meta-analysis of 16 randomized controlled trials involving 820 patients with neck pain. After considering each trial and its results, researchers concluded that cold laser therapy (in this case referred to as low-level laser therapy) had both positive short and long-term results. Specifically, the authors stated that this modality “reduces pain immediately after treatment in acute neck pain and up to 22 weeks after completion of treatment in patients with chronic neck pain.”
Another study reported similar findings, except this one took a closer look at cold laser therapy and its effects on back pain. The study was published in the Australian Journal of Physiotherapy and involved 61 patients who had been experiencing low back pain for a minimum of three months.
For purposes of this piece of research, participants were divided into three groups. The first group engaged in cold laser therapy, the second engaged in laser therapy and also did exercises, and the third group engaged in placebo laser therapy in addition to exercise.
Upon conclusion of the study, researchers noted that, when compared to the exercise-only group, the group that engaged in laser therapy combined with exercise had a greater reduction in pain at 12 weeks. This group also experienced better range of movement in the lumbar region and reduced disability within the same time frame.
Enhanced healing and cold laser therapy
Healthline explains that cold laser therapy works by applying varying wavelengths of low-level light to the affected area. After being absorbed by the tissue, a reaction occurs that ultimately promotes cell regeneration. For this reason, this method of treatment is oftentimes referred to as “regenerative medicine.” Further, it is in this cell regeneration that healing is enhanced, and research confirms this.
For example, a 2004 meta-analysis published in the journal Photomedicine and Laser Surgery studied nine peer-reviewed papers on this topic and determined that, in addition to providing pain relief, low-power lasers also help enhance tissue repair, thus positively impacting a person’s rate of healing.
This meta-analysis further noted that cold lasers have other beneficial effects related to tissue repair as well, some of which include the way it affects collagen formation, tensile strength, tensile stress and flap survival. As a result, the authors’ overall conclusion was that “laser phototherapy is a highly effective therapeutic armamentarium for tissue repair and pain relief.”
A 2014 systematic review adds that low-level laser therapy also reduces the inflammatory process, modulates growth and myogenic regulatory factors, and increases the development of new blood vessels. Together, these enhance the muscle repair process even more.
A combined effect
If cold laser applications both reduce pain and enhance healing, patients win in two ways. Not only do they have to struggle less with the discomfort they are feeling — without having to take opioids — but they also feel better faster. That makes the benefits of cold laser therapy an option that should be considered.