by Dava Stewart
Professional athletes, and even those who play sports recreationally, face a greater risk of injury than the general population. Each sport poses risks for various common injuries, most of which involve soft tissue. Low level laser therapy (LLLT) has been shown to have an analgesic effect on these kinds of injuries, as well as to speed the healing of soft tissue, making it a good treatment option for athletes.
While the majority of DCs do not treat professional athletes as part of their day-to-day practice, many do see amateur athletes regularly, and some professional and Olympic teams have made LLLT a regular part of their wellness programs. Running, swimming, tennis, biking, and other healthy activities can cause soft tissue injury that may be successfully treated with LLLT.
Swimmers sometimes suffer rotator cuff injuries, involving tears to the tendons in the shoulder. Traditional treatment options range from the application of ice to surgery, depending on the severity of the condition, among other factors. LLLT has been shown to be an effective treatment, especially when used in conjunction with physical therapy.1
The plantar ligament is a thick band of tissue that stretches from the heel of the foot to each of the five toes. It is responsible for some of the shock absorption when we walk or run. For runners especially, this ligament withstands a great deal of wear. When it tears, the result is pain, and the condition is referred to as plantar fasciitis, which is the most common cause of heel pain. Usually the condition is treated with ice and stretching. Studies show that LLLT is an effective treatment, improving patient outcomes.2
Bicycling is growing in popularity as a way to stay fit and active. However, it, like other sports, poses risk of injury. One of the most common injuries for bikers is Achilles tendinitis. As with rotator cuff tears and plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis is the result of small tears and inflammation of the soft tissue that makes up the Achilles tendon. Bikers suffer the injury from overuse and poor bike fit, among other reasons. With the proper protocols, LLLT is an effective treatment for Achilles tendinitis.3
The benefits of being active far outweigh the risks of injury. However, when a sports-related injury is incurred, pain relief and healing are top priority. Patients want to feel better and get back to doing whatever it is that keeps them fit and healthy. LLLT has no side effects, and promotes healing. In many instances, there is no good reason to not use it as a treatment for athletes.
1Kelle B, Kozanoglu E. Low-level laser and local corticosteroid injection in the treatment of subacromial impingement syndrome: a controlled clinical trial. National Center for Biotechnology Information. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24519921. Published February 2014. Accessed July 2014.
2Catena F, Coughlin MJ, Doty, JF, Jastifer JR, Stevens F. Low-Level Laser Therapy for the Treatment of Chronic Plantar Fasciitis: A Prospective Study. National Center for Biotechnology Information. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24510123. Published February 2014. Accessed July 2014.
3Bjordal JM, Iversen VV, Lopes-Martins RA. A randomised, placebo controlled trial of low level laser therapy for activated Achilles tendinitis with microdialysis measurement of peritendinous prostaglandin E2 concentrations. National Center for Biotechnology Information. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16371497. Published January 2006. Accessed July 2014.