Cold laser light therapy harnesses the healing power of light to activate the body’s natural ability to rejuvenate damaged tissue.

The idea of using light to promote healing has been around since ancient Egypt and Greece, according to the American Chiropractic Association (ACA).

The body reacts to light in special ways not fully understood. Without sunlight for instance, people are at increased risk of developing seasonal affective disorder and vitamin D deficiency, which can impact the development of disease and bone strength, among other things. Ancient civilizations took note of this and used light to help people heal and regain optimum health.

The modern form of laser therapy came into existence after 1960, and has gained much popularity since then as researchers have recognized the powerful changes that happen with its use.

Cold laser light therapy involves the use of cold light, which means it doesn’t heat the tissues and cause damage. This makes it different from other types of laser therapy used during surgery or for cosmetic treatments.

The word “laser” stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. It involves photon energy that seeps into tissues and alters the functioning of cells, triggering the production of healthy photo-chemicals and other biological changes that facilitate healing.

It’s been used to help people living with:

  • Acute and chronic pain
  • Arthritis pain and inflammation
  • Tendon and ligament sprains
  • Muscle strains
  • Soft tissue injuries
  • Myofascial pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Neck and low back pain
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Frozen shoulder
  • Knee pain
  • TMJ
  • Tendinitis

How does cold laser light therapy work?

Scientists aren’t sure exactly how the treatment works, although some research suggests the light may spur increased production of the feel-good chemicals endorphins, according to a review of studies published in Frontiers in Physiology.

Endorphins also help to reduce the perception of pain by interacting with the brain’s opioid receptors, the same ones that bind with opioid drugs. These chemicals activate the body’s immune response, encourage healing, and may act in similar ways to anti-inflammatory drugs, according to the research.

Damaged cells respond even more readily to light than healthy cells, beginning a chain of physiological reactions that help to regenerate tissues, reduce inflammation, alleviate pain, and accelerate wound healing, according to the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery. Because the damaged cells respond so well, brief sessions can be highly effective, although many patients need multiple sessions.

Ultimately, light is energy and cells with more energy have a greater capacity to carry out healing processes and repair in new ways. The three stages of healing are inflammation, tissue repair, and remodeling. This increased energy facilitates the entire process to help patients feel better, faster.

As the cells increase in activity, they get to work healing the body from pain and other tissue damage. For example, when cold laser light therapy is used to reduce inflammation, the body’s small arteries and lymph nodes enlarge as their natural fluid draining processes are activated in new ways, according to ACA.

How effective is it?

Studies have shown that the therapy is very effective for helping the body recuperate damaged tissue while helping it regain strength.

Research published in the journal Photomedicine and Laser Surgery studied its impact on patients with knee osteoarthritis and found those who received the therapy experienced significant improvement. Scientists found the therapy reduced pain and improved circulation in the treatment area.

Earlier studies have also found that low-level laser therapy helps with the creation of collagen and regeneration of bone, the researchers said.

The Frontiers in Physiology review of research found that cold laser light therapy helped patients with neck or knee pain experience less pain and more mobility.

Part of the reason the therapy is not more widely used is because experts still don’t understand how it works, according to research published in the Annals of Biomedical Engineering.

Also, treatment specifics such as wavelength and timing aren’t standardized, leaving them up to the doctor’s discretion. This makes it important to visit a doctor who is experienced in the technique and knows how to use it for optimal results.

Is it safe?

The Food and Drug Administration has approved cold laser light therapy and considers it safe for therapeutic use.

The therapy’s popularity is growing and research continues to examine the short- and long-term benefits, as well as identify any possible risks. Although it’s still gaining popularity among general consumers, professional sports teams have adopted the technique as an integral part of pain management, according to ACA.

Most major sports leagues and many Olympic teams use cold laser light therapy to help players recuperate from injuries faster. Some baseball pitchers use the therapy as part of their typical warm-up routine to stay at optimal performance.

What can I expect during a treatment?

The light is shone on the skin where the cells absorb it, and use the energy to boost circulation and function at higher levels. Depending on the size of the area needing treatment, doctors will use a big device capable of producing several streams of light simultaneously, or a smaller, hand-held device for more precise application.

The type of light used varies by patient. Pain present from damage in cells that are closer to the surface may benefit from light in wavelengths ranging from 600 to 700 nanometers while deeper cellular damage may need light in wavelengths ranging from 780 to 950 nanometers, according to Healthline.

Although treatments last only a few minutes, several may be needed before you see results. The process and results vary by patient, so see a doctor to examine the potential for you.

Does it hurt?

The good thing about cold laser light therapy is that it’s non-invasive and generates no heat, making it painless. Patients will feel the device as the doctor places it on the skin to emit light into the damaged area, but that’s the only sensation. The device doesn’t vibrate or make any sounds.

What is your experience with cold laser light therapy?

Image by Image Catalog via Flickr

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