What is Cold Laser Therapy?

Cold laser therapy is also known as low-level laser therapy (LLLT), low-power laser therapy (LPLT), soft laser biostimulation and photobiomodulation. It can deliver non-thermal photons of light to the body to help heal injured cells. Generally, surgical lasers used to destroy tumors tend to heat the tissue. Cold laser therapy is called “cold” because the low levels of light aren’t enough to heat your body’s tissue.

Nowadays, cold laser therapy is regarded as one of the most popular, natural and non-invasive treatment without side effect. Cold laser therapy is very safe and usually used as a complementary or alternative therapy to increase the efficiency of traditional physiotherapy and conventional treatments.

How Does Cold Laser Therapy Work?

Cold laser therapy employs the light with a wavelength in the red to near-infrared region of the spectrum. These wavelengths have the ability to penetrate the skin and soft or hard tissues.

Cold Laser therapy works through a photochemical effect. This process can be compared to photosynthesis in plants – sunlight is absorbed by the chlorophyll within plant cells, which is then converted to usable energy so that the plant can grow.

In order to make red or near-infrared light to have an effect on a biologic system, the photon must be absorbed by electronic absorption bands belonging to a photon acceptor or chromophore. Similar to the chlorophyll within plant cells, cytochrome c oxidase (COX) has been proposed to be the primary photo-acceptor for the red-NIR wavelength range in mammalian cells.

Mitochondria, where metabolism takes place, are “the cellular power factories” in our cells. They can convert food molecules and oxygen into energy (also called ATP) by oxidative phosphorylation. When cells inside tissue are damaged because of diseases and injuries, the mitochondria will produce harmful nitric oxide. The nitric oxide will bind with COX, and then displace needed oxygen from cells. The loss of oxygen will cause inflammation or cell death. When tissues absorb the light from the cold laser therapy, the nitric oxide is dissociated from COX. It allows more oxygen back into the cells and therefore increases tissue oxygenation. Via this mechanism, cell metabolism and mitochondria function are restored. In other words, this mechanism can help human and animals repair injured cells and recover from health conditions.

The Benefits of Cold Laser Therapy

According to plenty of clinical trials, cold laser therapy can stimulate cellular metabolism, improve blood circulation, diminish inflammation, relieve pain and accelerate tissue repair. It can benefit both human and pets.

Some of the conditions that may typically be treated by cold laser therapy include:

  • Ligament sprains, muscle strains
  • Tendonitis, bursitis, arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, frozen shoulder
  • Neck pain, lower back pain, knee pain, sciatica
  • Tennis elbow, fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Acne and acne scars, psoriasis, vitiligo, dermatitis and rashes
  • Wound healing, ulcerations, burns, edema
  • Chronic autoimmune diseases

In addition, acupuncturists often use cold laser therapy for clients who are uncomfortable with needles. The low-level laser beams can stimulate your acupoints without piercing your skin.

History of Cold Laser Therapy

Cold Laser Therapy has been used in clinical practices all around the world for several decades. In 1903, Dr. Nils Finsen was awarded a Nobel Prize for his contribution to the treatment of diseases, especially lupus vulgaris, with concentrated light radiation. In 1916, Albert Einstein conceived the theory of Light Amplification through Stimulated Emission of Radiation or Laser. In 1960, Professor Maiman TH built the first working red ruby laser.

In 1967, Professor Andre Mester began using low power lasers in medicine. Dr. Mester is recognized by many as the father of laser therapy. He performed tests on mice to determine whether or not laser exposure caused cancer. In the experiments, he shaved the hair off the backs of mice, and divided the subjects into two groups. He exposed one group to laser treatment using a low-power laser device while the control group received no laser therapy. The mice who received laser therapy experienced much faster hair regrowth than the control group. Thus, photo-biostimulation (activation of the cell by light) was discovered.

FDA Recognition of Cold Laser Therapy

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognizes four major classes (I to IV) of lasers, including three subclasses (IIa, IIIa, and IIIb). The higher the class, the more powerful the laser.

Three categories among them are classified as medical lasers by FDA. These are Class 3A Non-surgical Lasers, Class 3B Low-Level Lasers and Class 4 Surgical Lasers.

Class 4 Surgical Lasers are used to cut, coagulate, and vaporize tissue. This is different from Class 3A and Class 3B lasers, which are non-surgical, painless, non-burning, and non-cutting forms of lasers. Class 3A or Class 3B which belong to Low Level Lasers do not have the intensity to damage cells. Class 3A lasers help heal superficial wounds and conditions and will typically not penetrate below the skin’s surface. However, Class 3B low level lasers have the ability to penetrate and assist in the healing process of deep tissue and joint problems.

The first experimental FDA clearance of Class 3B Lasers occurred in February of 2002, after a successful study for carpal tunnel syndrome on workers at General Motors.

Cold laser devices are also FDA approved for relief of the following conditions:

  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Stiffness associated with arthritis
  • Pain associated with muscle spasms
  • Hand pain and wrist pain associated with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Neck pain
  • Lower back pain
  • Wound healing

Recent Studies of Cold Laser Therapy

2017 – Low Level Laser improves survival of head and neck cancer patients.
2017 – American College of Physicians Guidelines include a “strong recommendation” for Cold Laser Therapy as a non-invasive Treatments for Acute, Subacute & Chronic Low Back Pain.
2016 – Cold Laser Therapy for chronic non-specific low back pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials found “moderate quality of evidence” and “clinically important benefits” in the short term.
2011 – British Medical Journal (BMJ) Clinical Guidelines for tennis elbow “Likely to be beneficial for short-term pain relief & improvement of function”.
2010 – The International Association for the Study of Pain (Global Task Force on musculoskeletal pain) recommend laser for myofascial pain syndrome.
2010 – British Journal of Sports Medicine, systematic review of surgical and conservative interventions for frozen shoulder found “strong evidence” for Cold Laser Therapy.
2010 – American Physical Therapy Association guidelines recommend Cold Laser Therapy for Achilles tendonitis.
2009 – The Lancet “Cold Laser Therapy reduces pain immediately after treatment in acute neck pain and for up to 22 weeks in patients with chronic neck pain”.
2008 – World Health Organisation (Bone and Joint Task Force) recommended Cold Laser Therapy for neck pain.

Is Cold Laser Therapy for You?

Although cold laser therapy is quite safe and healthy, it is not recommended in some cases.

Cold laser therapy shouldn’t be used on carcinomas or cancerous lesions. It should also be avoided on the thyroid or eyes. With little research done in this area, cold laser therapy has not been proven to be safe for unborn children. So, it’s not suggested that pregnant women use this type of treatment.

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