by Dava Stewart
Sometimes, surgery is the only option for successful treatment. However, most patients and healthcare providers prefer a more conservative approach, if at all possible. For patients with particular conditions, LLLT may postpone the need for surgery. In rare cases, LLLT may even alleviate the need for surgery.
Every person is different, of course, and the level of success may well correlate to the level of experience and skill of the person providing the laser treatment. Considering the risks associated with any surgery compared to the relative lack of risk associated with LLLT, patients and practitioners are increasingly finding value in using LLLT before deciding surgery is the best option.
Knee osteoarthritis (KOA) is a degenerative condition that may result in knee replacement surgery. In most cases doctors advise patients to wait as long as possible before undergoing the operation, but there is no known cure for KOA, so LLLT will not prevent the eventual need for it. However, because LLLT has analgesic properties and promotes blood flow and healing of soft tissues, it can postpone the need for surgery. Studies have shown that LLLT significantly reduces pain and increases joint flexion, both of which allow patients to live a higher quality of life despite the degenerative nature of KOA.1
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a painful condition caused when the median nerve, which controls much of the feeling in the palm of the hand, fingers, and thumb, is pinched or pressed in the wrist.2 Carpal tunnel release is among the most common surgical procedures in the United States, and LLLT is proving to be an effective, non-invasive, alternative treatment.3
According to the Mayo Clinic website, “postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) is a complication of shingles, which is caused by the chickenpox (herpes zoster) virus. Most cases of shingles clear up within a few weeks. But if the pain lasts long after the shingles rash and blisters have disappeared, it’s called postherpetic neuralgia.”4 People over 60 are at the greatest risk for developing PHN, and no single treatment has been found to eradicate the symptoms. Surgery is only one of many treatment options; however, since the risks associated with surgery increase with age, LLLT may provide a safer option. Studies are showing that LLLT is as effective as pharmaceutical and surgical treatments for PHN.5
As more research is completed, LLLT continues to be proven a useful treatment for soft tissue wounds and injuries. Although insurance companies continue to classify it as an “experimental treatment,” the fact that LLLT has no known side effects and may provide a non-invasive and effective alternative to surgery makes it an important option for patients.
1Galfi M, Gervain M, Hegedus B, Laszlo V. The Effect of Low-Level Laser in Knee Osteoarthritis: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Photomed Laser Surg. Aug 2009; 27(4): 577-584.
2National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Fact Sheet. National Institutes of Health. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/carpal_tunnel/detail_carpal_tunnel.htm. Published July 2012. Accessed September 2014.
3Elazzazi A, Elwakil T, Hisham S. Treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome by low-level laser versus open carpal tunnel release. Lasers in Medical Science. Nov 2007; 22(4): 265-270.
4Mayo Clinic Staff. Postherpetic neuralgia. MayoClinic.org. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/postherpetic-neuralgia/basics/definition/con-20023743. Published November 2012. Accessed September 2014.
5Kahn F, Merrick R, Saraga F. Treatment of Postherpetic Neuralgia With Low Level Laser Therapy. Practical Pain Management. http://www.practicalpainmanagement.com/treatment-postherpetic-neuralgia-low-level-laser-therapy. Published July 2013. Accessed September 2014.