Fire the ”Laser” to Better Health: The Benefits of Class IV Laser
By Stephen Woollard, CAT(C)
When you hear the word laser you might think of a laser pointer, a barcode scanner, or laser eye surgery. My mind tends to think of James Bond villains and sharks with laser beams attached to their heads a la Dr. Evil and Austin Powers. And while these are all good examples, I want to talk about using a laser as a therapeutic treatment.
When I began researching this topic, I will admit I was skeptical. There are many devices and treatments with a lot of claims, some of them work and some of them are shams. However, as I read more and more, I found that therapeutic laser is not a new idea and has been thoroughly tested.
Laser is a proven technology that can aid wound healing, pain reduction, neural injuries, tissue regeneration and other conditions. It is easy to go down a rabbit hole on this subject (I read all the technical nerdy papers, so you don’t have to), but I hope to provide a broad overview of what therapeutic laser is, how it works, and how it can help you.
What is a laser?
Laser is an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Which is to say that it is a very focused beam of photons. Lasers can be grouped into classes based on their power and the medium used to emit the light. A class 1 laser would be a disc drive laser (DVD) and are basically harmless, Class 2 would be a laser pointer which if you don’t blink could cause some eye damage, Class 3 begins to get into the therapeutic range and are often referred to as “cold lasers” meaning that they don’t cause any thermal effect in the tissue, and at The Athlete Centre we have a class 4 laser. Class 4 lasers can cut through materials or be used in surgery and have the potential to cause serious eye damage depending on the overall energy emitted. However, the laser at TAC is at a low enough level to not cause any damage if kept moving and not focused in one area, and eye protection is provided for both practitioner and patient. Other than a slight warming effect, there is no sensation associated with a class IV laser treatment.
Lasers have been used in medicine since at least 1903 when Dr. Nils Finsen was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work on disease treatment with concentrated light radiation. The idea did not become more mainstream until the 1960s. Since then, there have been over 400 randomized, double-blind trials involving laser and over 4000 laboratory studies.
How does it work?
The main action of laser therapy has mostly to do with the spectrum of radiation involved which in this case is infrared or near-infrared, and how that interacts with our body. As the photons pass through our tissues, they strike photoreceptors in our cells located in the mitochondria. As you may remember from grade 8 science class, the mitochondria are the power houses of the cell. They produce energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate or ATP. When stimulated by photons the mitochondria increase production of ATP (fuel for your body) and leads to a host of other biochemical changes in the cell which help to facilitate healing including neovascularization (formation of new blood vessels) and increased collagen synthesis (the creation of new connective tissue). This process is known as photo-biomodulation.
What is laser useful for?
This is one of those cases where it might be easier to say what it doesn’t do. In my reading I came across many claims about what laser can help with. Including hair loss, wrinkle reduction, and smoking cessation. And while that might be true, we will look more closely at how laser can benefit orthopedic injuries and other conditions. Laser can be very helpful for treating open wounds (diabetic ulcers) and burns. As well as other injuries including nerves, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and bone due to the lasers ability to stimulate tissue and collagen growth. In addition to acute injuries like sprains and strains laser can also be helpful for chronic injuries like low back pain, rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, and diabetic neuropathy. One of the more exciting areas where laser is beneficial is the nervous system, including your brain. One review paper noted the benefits for trigeminal neuralgia, traumatic brain injury, and nerve pain. On an anecdotal and personal note my aunt suffered a stroke a few years ago and had lost some of the function in her hand and suffered from constant nerve pain even after completing traditional physical therapy. However, after treatment of her hand and nervous system via laser her hand function has improved greatly, and she has regained a higher quality of life.
|Ligament Sprains||Osteoarthritis||Trigeminal Neuralgia|
|Muscle Strains||Rheumatoid Arthritis||Diabetic Neuropathy|
|Post-surgical Pain||Frozen Shoulder|
|Whiplash||Neck and Back Pain|
|Tendinitis||Carpal Tunnel Syndrome|
|Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome|
A number of our practitioners have also had positive experiences using laser. Dr. Kavan Yu has seen good results with an acute MCL sprain, improved breathing and decreased pain with a collapsed lung and displaced rib fracture, and decreasing acute knee swelling. One of our RMTs Holly Ouellette developed IT band pain during a 50km run, and the pain resolved after one treatment with laser.
This may have made laser therapy sound like a magic bullet that will solve all your problems. And I want to underscore that that was not my intention. But I did want to provide some information on what laser therapy is and how it can help with recovery as part of an overall, well rounded treatment plan. If you would be interested in learning more about laser you can read some of the reference links at the bottom of the page, or you could book a session with one of our Athlete Centre practitioners that offer laser treatments.
Mansouri V, Arjmand B, Rezaei Tavirani M, Razzaghi M, Rostami-Nejad M, Hamdieh M. Evaluation of Efficacy of Low-Level Laser Therapy. J Lasers Med Sci. 2020 Fall;11(4):369-380. doi: 10.34172/jlms.2020.60. Epub 2020 Oct 3. PMID: 33425286; PMCID: PMC7736953.
Thunshelle C, Hamblin MR. Transcranial Low-Level Laser (Light) Therapy for Brain Injury. Photomed Laser Surg. 2016 Dec;34(12):587-598. doi: 10.1089/pho.2015.4051. PMID: 28001759; PMCID: PMC5180077.
Avci P, Gupta A, Sadasivam M, Vecchio D, Pam Z, Pam N, Hamblin MR. Low-level laser (light) therapy (LLLT) in skin: stimulating, healing, restoring. Semin Cutan Med Surg. 2013 Mar;32(1):41-52. PMID: 24049929; PMCID: PMC4126803.
Cotler HB, Chow RT, Hamblin MR, Carroll J. The Use of Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT) For Musculoskeletal Pain. MOJ Orthop Rheumatol. 2015;2(5):00068. doi: 10.15406/mojor.2015.02.00068. Epub 2015 Jun 9. PMID: 26858986; PMCID: PMC4743666.