Shining a light on low-light laser therapy

Understanding the many benefits of LLLT

When most people hear the term laser therapy, they typically think of cosmetic treatments. However, in reality, there are other types of laser therapy that can be incredibly beneficial for the body and lead to numerous physical improvements. This article will focus on the benefits of low-light laser therapy while explaining what exactly the treatment is and what you can expect from a session.

What is low-light laser therapy?

Low-Light Laser Therapy (LLLT) is an FDA-recognized treatment that uses low-intensity lasers or LEDs to reduce pain and inflammation or speed up and increase the quality of tissue repair. Usually applied by a licensed technician, treatments take about 10 to 15 minutes and should be applied regularly – up to two or more times a week. Unlike a surgical laser, there is no heating effect, which is why LLLT is also known as cold laser therapy.

How the treatment works and areas it can be used

You may be familiar with heated lasers, which are used in the medical world for surgical precision. However, because the effects of LLLT are cold and not thermal, it causes a photochemical reaction that affects the tissue at a cellular level. This makes LLLT a great tool for healing precision, stimulating the growth and regeneration of the affected tissues.

Laser therapy uses a process called photobiomodulation, causing a reaction takes between cells and photons. The cold laser enters the tissue, alters cell membrane permeability and, at the cellular level, is absorbed in the mitochondria of the cell. This has the potential to create a wealth of physiological changes.

LLLT is most commonly used on the lower back, arms and wrists, legs and ankles, neck and shoulders. However, it can be applied to most areas of the body and can treat a range of conditions from chronic pain and inflammation to muscle tears, post-surgical rehabilitation and even tendonitis. Lasers that have larger power ranges offer the most flexible treatment options. LLLT should not be used directly on the eyes or the thyroid.

The benefits:

Pain and inflammation reduction

Unlike medications and surgery, laser therapy reduces pain and inflammation without any undesirable side effects or downtime. Whether you’re experiencing pain from a sports injury, a recent accident, an old injury that never healed properly or even recurring chronic pain from a medical condition like fibromyalgia, tennis elbow or tendonitis, LLLT patients normally report long-lasting pain relief after consistent treatments.

Improved circulation

By directing light energy into the body’s cells, LLLT allows photons to enter the affected tissue and become absorbed in the cells’ mitochondria, converting it to electromagnetic energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). This additional ATP is energy the cell uses to trigger improved blood flow throughout the treatment area. This is a great treatment option for circulation-related symptoms for diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and more.

Recovery of nerve function

Surgery is normally the go-to treatment option for significant nerve injuries, and for smaller injuries nerves can heal on their own – albeit very slowly. With LLLT, you can repair the nerve and restore its full function much more quickly, without going under the knife. Research has shown that cold laser therapy stimulates the production of Schwann cells, which secrete neurotrophic factors that promote nerve regeneration.

Fast healing of wounds and less scarring

If you’ve recently been in a car accident or have lingering wounds associated with medical conditions such as diabetes, you can seek out cold laser therapy to speed up the healing process without irritating the wound further. LLLT can also help minimize scarring associated with these wounds after they have healed.

Skin rejuvenation

LLLT can be used to encourage skin rejuvenation by stimulating the repair and regrowth of damaged cells far beneath the surface. Dermatologists use cold laser therapy to treat various skin problems, including but not limited to acne and acne scars, psoriasis, burns, vitiligo, edema (swelling of the skin) dermatitis and routine rashes caused by allergies or irritation.

What does it feel like?

During your treatment, you should not feel any pain. You may feel a slight warm sensation or tingling in the treatment area, but this will subside shortly after treatment is completed. However, because your nerves are being stimulated, it is not uncommon to experience mild discomfort or even increased pain for a few hours after treatment. A cool compress may help this discomfort to dissipate more quickly.

How long until i see results?

LLLT is not a one-time treatment. But depending on what you are treating, you may feel some level of relief immediately after your treatment. In order to experience the full results, it could take anywhere from three to eight consistent treatments, depending on what you are treating and what your doctor has recommended. Patients generally should not exceed three treatments per week.

Is it safe?

Because the LED light emitted from LLLT does not heat or burn your skin, there is virtually no risk of pain associated with this treatment – making it as safe as it is effective. There are no known long-term side effects, but we recommend not looking directly into the laser’s red or infrared light to avoid damaging your eyes. Other than that, there are no side effects associated with cold laser therapy.

Who should or should not have this treatment?

For people experiencing certain health conditions or disorders, there may be certain risks involved with pursuing LLLT. If you have any of the following conditions, speak to your doctor before seeking out cold laser therapy:

  • Pregnancy
  • *Cancer/malignant tumours on the treatment area
  • Thyroid issues
  • Tattoos on the treatment area

*LLLT can treat cancer side effects or for pain relief during the final terminal stage of the illness.

The takeaway

When it comes to Low-Light Laser Therapy, there is much more to it than meets the eye. It’s more than a cosmetic treatment and can, in fact, be used to treat a wide range of medical conditions and tissue-related problems. If you still have questions and you’re wondering whether cold laser therapy may be right for you, book a consultation and we’d be happy to point you in the right direction.

Michael McCreight, Registered Physiotherapist

Mike is an experienced and talented physiotherapist who holds a BSc in human kinetics and an MSc in physiotherapy. He doesn't believe in a “one-size-fits-all” approach and is committed to providing client-centred care, tailoring each treatment plan to each patient’s unique needs and personal goals.

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