Last month we did some investigating into what the research is showing about PEMF and its efficacy. This month I set out to do the same with low level laser therapy.
Here at Pivot Point Equine we have been using multi-radiance super pulsed lasers to treat horses for the past couple years. I have to admit that I was once again skeptical about this modality at first and was set out to prove that it was a sham. But once I began to use it and learn more about the laser, I was pleasantly surprised with what I was seeing.
Lasers were first something that we saw in science fiction movies in the 70s and 80s, where the laser guns were used to evaporate the bad guy. Then we saw lasers used in surgery to cut and cauterize tissues and blood vessels. Now lasers have been transformed into lower-powered healing devices but continue to be controversial.
Many times people think “A little light isn’t going to do anything to me!” So if you are of this school of thought, what happens to you when you are out in the sun all day without sunscreen and clothing to cover your skin? You get burned or at the very least tanned a little.
The action of the low level laser therapy (LLLT) is similar to photosynthesis in plants. The light of the laser creates a photochemical action—not a thermal action—so no heating of the tissue. The light triggers chemical changes within the cells, which stimulate the cells to “flush out” the cellular “garbage” that is keeping the cell from healing and brings in healthier nutrients to stimulate repair and regeneration.
This action that I described above is wonderful in reducing swelling and inflammation and has been well documented in animal models and clinical trials. It also is helpful in wound healing, nerve pain, and muscle and joint pain. The effects range from temporary to moderate and long- term relief, depending on the tissue and the problem it is treating. For this reason I love using this modality on my horse a couple hours before we perform.
The thing that we have to remember, as with any modality, is that it does not correct situations involving structural deficits or instabilities whether in bone or soft tissues. So the laser is not going to fix pain or inflammation that is due to a misaligned bone or a poorly aligned joint. It may give some temporary relief, but it can only help the pain and inflammation temporarily and you need to also address the cause of the pain.
One other great attribute that LLLT offers is very few, if any, side effects. Contraindications (cases where you shouldn’t use LLLT) include:
- Uncovered eyes. Do not aim the laser beam directly into the eyes and appropriate eye wear should be worn.
- Cancer. Do not treat over the site of known cancer or metastasis.
- Pregnancy. Do not treat directly over a developing fetus.
- Epilepsy. Be aware that low frequency pulsed light may trigger a seizure in photosensitive epileptic patients.
In conclusion, LLLT has been researched and has been shown to have scientific backing to show that it has a positive effect on the cellular level and can help acute and chronic conditions for pain relief and can accelerate the body’s ability to heal itself.
Personally I have seen it produce great results in wound healing and edema reduction in both chronic and acute conditions. In the clinic we have used the laser on patients with chronic lymphedema with results that equal manual lymph drainage. We have also seen it heal nonhealing wounds that had been an issue for months within two weeks. I think we all have to remember that it is not, however, a magic wand, and it cannot correct problems involving structural deficits or instabilities. It will not replace proper veterinary care, good shoeing techniques, or adequate nutrition. But it can complement those important aspects of keeping our equine partners feeling the best they can to perform for us.