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  • Dr. Jason Rountree

Does Laser Therapy Really Work?

Updated: Jan 6, 2021

Today I want to talk about making high-intensity laser work for you and making sure that you get good results. I'll be referring to a study titled "The Beneficial Effects of High Intensity Laser Therapy and Co-interventions on Musculoskeletal Pain Management: a Systematic Review." This was published in 2020 in the journal Lasers in Medical Sciences. So a pretty new study. One of the exciting things about laser therapy is all the studies that have been coming out. So, we know from a scientific standpoint that laser therapy can work. How do you make it work for you? There are a few things in this study that I'll be pulling out that I'd like you to know before or while you're undergoing laser therapy.

And the first one is that laser therapy works. This particular study took a whole bunch of trials that were done; 19 studies qualified as high-quality studies. They said 94% of the articles included in their study revealed positive effects from high-intensity laser therapy on pain. Musculoskeletal pain is the main cause of chronic pain in adults. We're talking things like plantar fasciitis, osteoarthritis in the knee back, neck pain, tennis elbow, rheumatoid arthritis pain, disc protrusions, wound healing and more.

Now before I go any further, let's let's really nail down what we mean by high intensity laser therapy. We're not talking about surgical lasers. We're not talking about even cosmetic lasers. We're not talking about super heating the skin or the tissues. What really happens is infrared light gets down into injured tissues, kind of like shining a flashlight through your hand, you know? So the light can get into those tissues and it stimulates a cellular change in damaged tissue. This will let you can get more oxygen delivery to the area. You can speed up the rate at which those cells can create energy. And this helps the body to heal itself. So, we're not talking about cutting or burning tissues, but simply driving light into the tissues noninvasively to stimulate the body's own healing mechanisms. And I should say too, that we're not talking about trying to irritate the tissues in order to start a healing response, we're not damaging or irritating tissues with laser therapy, we're simply promoting the body's repair mechanisms in areas that are already damaged. I'm thinking here about PRP (platelet rich plasma), and also prolotherapy. These treatments induce a little bit of inflammation and a little bit of irritation to the body to stimulate a healing response in that area. But with laser we're simply fueling the healing response without irritating those tissues at all.

So, if you have a musculoskeletal condition and you are seeking or getting laser therapy, what should you be doing to make sure that you are going to be successful? Well, one thing that these researchers in this paper said will definitely reduce the effects of laser is taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), drugs like ibuprofen. They said it absolutely will reduce the amount of benefit that you can experience from laser. And further, you should be getting at least 10 sessions for most of these musculoskeletal pain conditions. So, if you get one or two treatments and you don't really notice much, don't stop. Don't give up. You need to keep going. According to the research, it's not usually just one or two treatments that makes all the difference. It's a series of treatments, oftentimes over a month or two months, and at least 10 sessions as well. And further on, they say that especially chronic problems, problems that have been going on for a long time, need more laser than acute problem. So, if it's been going on for a long time, it's likely you're going to need more laser over a longer period of time than something that just happened yesterday. You know, I've seen that in practice. We've got people that will sprain an ankle. They'll come in for just a couple of treatments, they're doing great and they're out the door. And then we've got others that have been dealing with an ongoing back pain issue for years. They're just not going to have a ton of benefit out of just couple of treatments. It's going to take longer. We're talking about chronic problems that didn't start yesterday and they're certainly not going to end tomorrow.

Many times, laser therapy is used side by side with other treatments, called co-interventions. Things like exercise and additional passive or active modalities. Many times, we'll pair exercise with laser therapy to see improved results on the long term. And that is what these researchers saw, especially for osteopenia or osteoporosis, which is decreased bone density. Also, for plantar fasciitis and osteoarthritic knee pain. They saw that very good results were had with high-intensity laser therapy coupled with exercise.

I think that's very interesting. Many times, it's not just one single magic bullet. Many times, it needs to be several treatments put together to help work on a problem from multiple angles. Laser therapy is great for healing. But when we're talking about plantar fasciitis in particular, you oftentimes need to have nighttime bracing and stretching routines and some exercises to help those tissues recover quicker because it's a difficult condition, but we can see here that laser therapy can be added in there to really promote the healing of those inflamed tissues.

If you think laser therapy might be an option for you here in Kalispell, please give us a call. You can set up a no-charge consultation and find out more right away. 406-314-6400.


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