What Is Laser Therapy?

Laser therapy utilizes extremely focused light of different wavelengths. Focused in this way, laser light can cut steel and shape diamonds. In surgery, lasers cause less damage to surrounding tissue, less pain, and shorter recovery times. IV laser therapy, also known as low-level laser therapy, or IV photobiomodulation therapy, is a relatively new use of lasers. It consists of laser energy delivered directly into the blood. A catheter inserted into the vein allows access for a thin fiber optic cable to deliver the laser energy. This process contains anti-inflammatory properties, improves blood flow, boosts the immune system, kills microbes and viruses, and improves oxygenation of blood. People who undergo this treatment typically feel increased levels of energy, clearer thinking, improved sleep, decreased pain, and increased strength and endurance. This form of therapy tends to augment better results in the treatment of Lyme disease with antibiotic use. If a person responds to antibiotics, IV laser therapy increases that response.

Potential Safety Concerns with IV Laser Therapy

This type of laser therapy may bring on an anti-coagulant effect. Therefore, people on blood thinners should make sure their PT/PTT or INR levels are monitored by physicians. Low-level laser therapy can also lower blood sugar levels. People on medications that lower blood sugar must undergo monitoring to ensure their levels don’t get too low. Blood flow improves with this type of therapy. Thus, those on any medication should be aware of potentially increased effects from those medications with increased blood flow.

What Is Photobiomodulation and What Is It Used For?

Photobiomodulation (PBM) therapy is the term used by researchers instead of low-level laser therapy; however, these two terms are synonymous. It involves using light therapy including lasers to decrease pain and inflammation, boost immune system function, and increase the healing of wounds and generating new tissue. It does this by affecting the mitochondria inside cells, ultimately leading to an increase in ATP production, which is your body’s main source of energy. In addition, the use of light therapy stimulates nitric oxide and reactive oxygen species. This combination then increases the production of growth factors, helps grow more cells, and improves pro-survival pathways. Outside of the cells, this light therapy increases circulation of blood to the desired site in the body. This, in turn, supplies more oxygen to the damaged cells along with more sugars, proteins, and salts. Also, it improves the removal of waste products from the sites.

Different Uses for Different Colors

There are four main color categories used in low-level laser therapy: yellow, red and infrared, blue, and green. Each one has its own wavelength range, absorbability, physiological effects, and clinical applications. Below is a summary of each.

Red and Infrared Lasers

  • Wavelength range: 621 – 750 nm
  • Absorbability: penetrates the skin deeply
  • Physiological effects: oxidation of cytochrome oxidase c, activation of ATP production, support of central nervous system (CNS) function, support of the immune system
  • Clinical applications: microcirculation, tissue regeneration, wound healing, reduction of inflammation in joints, inhibition of platelet aggregation, inhibition of coagulation, and in some types of cancer therapy

Yellow Laser:

  • Wavelength range: 571 – 590 nm
  • Absorbability: almost completely absorbed by the skin
  • Physiological effects: stimulates the mitochondrial respiratory chain, which helps with the phosphorylation of ADP to ATP
  • Clinical applications: viral and bacterial infections (including EBV, zoster, herpes, and Lyme disease), advanced multiple sclerosis, autism, vitamin D metabolism (good for bones, immune system, and connective tissue), serotonin metabolism (good for depression), and in some types of cancer therapy

Green Laser:

  • Wavelength range: 496 – 570 nm
  • Absorbability: almost completely absorbed by the skin
  • Physiological effects: absorbed by hemoglobin, increases the supply of oxygen, stimulates mitochondria, stimulates sodium-potassium ATPase
  • Clinical applications: increases the proliferation of fibroblasts, enhances immunity, is anti-inflammatory, helps with ulcers, helps with tumors, and relieves pain related to inflammation

Blue Laser:

  • Wavelength range: 451 – 495 nm
  • Absorbability: almost completely absorbed by the skin
  • Physiological effects: absorbed by hemoglobin and porphyrins, increases nitric oxide production, activates telomerase, improves ATP metabolism
  • Clinical applications: is antibacterial, increases longevity, helps with wound healing, and helps with pain relief

As this list shows, laser therapy can be useful for a wide variety of conditions and symptoms. But that doesn’t mean that you should use it without first taking a few things into account.

Trials and Reviews on the Effectiveness of Laser Therapy on Different Medical Conditions

Below is a list of different reviews on laser therapy’s effectiveness for different conditions. Each summarized review contains a link to the original article for further details.

2008: The Bone and Joint Task Force on Neck Pain

The Bone and Joint Task Force, an initiative by the United Nations and the World Health Organization, released a review in 2008 about neck pain. In it, they stated that a number of non-invasive treatments appeared to have some benefits. These include manual therapy, exercises, acupuncture, and low-level laser therapy. To read more, click here.

2009: The Lancet on Neck Pain

The Lancet is one of the oldest, best-known, and most prestigious peer-reviewed medical journals in the world. In 2009, they released a review of 16 randomized controlled trials with a total of 820 patients with neck pain. The review showed that low-level laser therapy reduces acute neck pain immediately after treatment. In patients with chronic pain, the therapy reduced their pain for up to 22 weeks after they completed the therapy. To read more, click here.

2010: The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) on Achilles Tendinitis

In APTA’s 2010 clinical guidelines, they recommended that clinicians should consider using low-level laser therapy to help with the pain and stiffness of Achilles Tendinopathy. They stated that this recommendation was based on moderate evidence. To read more, click here.

2010: British Journal of Sports Medicine on Frozen Shoulder

The British Journal of Sports Medicine published a systematic review of the effectiveness of different conservative and surgical interventions for frozen shoulder. Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, is a condition that makes your shoulder joint stiff and painful. In their review, they stated that they found strong evidence for the effectiveness of laser therapy in the short-term. To read more, click here.

2010: The International Association for the Study of Pain on Myofascial Pain

The International Association for the Study of Pain released a statement on myofascial pain as part of their Global Year Against Musculoskeletal Pain. Myofascial pain is pain in the muscles and/or fascia, the connective tissue that surrounds muscles. In this statement, they included laser therapy as one of the interventions with strong evidence for relieving this pain. To read more, click here.

2011: The British Medical Journal (BMJ) on Tennis Elbow

Tennis elbow is a condition that comes from overusing the muscles and tendons in your forearms, especially in repetitive motions. This leads to damage and inflammation, which in turn creates pain in your elbow. The BMJ conducted a systematic review of different therapies for tennis elbow, including low-level laser therapy. They concluded that laser therapy is likely beneficial for pain relief and improvement in function, short-term. To read more, click here.

2011: The European Society for Medical Oncology on Oral Mucositis

Oral mucositis is the inflammation and formation of ulcers in the mouth. It’s a common complication of cancer therapy, especially chemotherapy. It can be quite debilitating. The European Society for Medical Oncology published a systematic review with a meta-analysis of the effects of laser therapy in oral mucositis induced by cancer therapy. They concluded that red and infrared low-level laser therapy can help in the prevention of oral mucositis and also reduce the pain, duration, and severity of its symptoms. To read more, click here.

2012: Multinational Association for the Supportive Care for Cancer (MASCC) on Oral Mucositis

The MASCC conducted a systematic review on the management of oral mucositis in cancer patients using laser therapy and other types of light therapy. They concluded that there is encouraging evidence that suggests low-level laser therapy could be a possible therapy for oral mucositis. They also stated that additional research is needed to evaluate its effectiveness in different cancer settings, but that the evidence was enough to allow the development of new MASCC guidelines that support its use. To read more, click here. Two years later, in 2014, the MASCC updated its guidelines to include laser therapy as a recommendation for the prevention of oral mucositis in chemotherapy patients, and as a suggestion for its prevention in radiotherapy patients with head and neck cancer. Recommendations are based on strong evidence while suggestions are based on weaker evidence. To read more, click here.

Additional Studies on Laser Therapy for Oral Mucositis

More reviews and studies on the effectiveness of laser therapy on oral mucositis were conducted in the years following, including:

  • In 2014, the Hematology and Oncology Journal showed that patients that did not receive laser therapy had 30% higher hospitalization costs than those that did. To read more, click here.
  • LiTEFORM is a randomized controlled trial of the clinical-and-cost-effectiveness of low-level laser therapy in the management of oral mucositis in patients receiving irradiation for head and neck cancer. The trial began in 2017 and is still ongoing. To read more, click here.
  • In 2018, the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence guidance for the UK’s NHS recommended the use of laser therapy for oral mucositis. To read more, click here.
  • In 2019, the MASCC guidelines once again recommended laser therapy for the prevention of oral mucositis. To read more, click here.

2013: Journal of Applied Oral Sciences on Temporomandibular Disorders (TMD)

The Journal of Applied Oral Sciences conducted a systematic review of the effects of low-level laser therapy on the pain levels of patients with TMD. They found that when the laser is properly applied, it could reduce pain. They also stated that these results could be due to laser therapy’s dose-specific anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and healing effects on the temporomandibular joint and on the painful area of the masticatory muscle. To read more, click here.

2016: The BMJ on Chronic Non-Specific Lower Back Pain

The BMJ conducted a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials composed of 15 studies that involved a total of 1039 participants with lower back pain. They found “moderate quality of evidence” and “clinically important benefit” for the use of laser therapy for low back pain in the short-term. To read more, click here.

2016: The BMJ on Chronic Non-Specific Lower Back Pain

The BMJ conducted a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials composed of 15 studies that involved a total of 1039 participants with lower back pain. They found “moderate quality of evidence” and “clinically important benefit” for the use of laser therapy for low back pain in the short-term. To read more, click here.

2017: The American College of Physicians on Low Back Pain

In their guidelines, the American College of Physicians included a strong recommendation for the use of laser therapy as a non-invasive intervention for acute, subacute, and chronic low back pain. To read more, click here.

2017: The Oral Oncology Journal on Head and Neck Cancer

The Oral Oncology journal conducted a randomized phase III trial (from 2007 to 2015) of 94 patients with different head and neck cancers. The patients were given conventional radiotherapy as well as cisplatin every 3 weeks and also received low-level laser therapy. The findings showed the patients receiving laser therapy had a statistically significant improved response to therapy than the placebo group. This suggests laser therapy may improve the survival of head and neck cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. To read more, click here.

Laser therapy, IV laser therapy, and photobiomodulation make up some of the newer techniques available at the Lam Clinic.

For more information about these treatments or to make an appointment, come by the clinic or call 714-709-8000 today.