Many ancient cultures across the world have believed in light and the biochemical reactions it can cause in the body. Perhaps, this belief formed the basis of sun worship by cultures such as the Aztecs, Indians, Egyptians, Sumerians, and many more. Today, science accepts that light at specific wavelengths can be used for non-invasive, therapeutic purposes and to perform surgery in addition to industrial applications.
What is Laser Therapy?
The word laser stands for, Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.” Laser therapy can be of many forms with different uses of each. One form of laser therapy is also known as Cold Lasers, High Power Laser Therapy (HPLT), and Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT). Light can be used at different wavelengths to perform various actions. Doctors choose specific wavelengths of red or near-red infrared light and use it to heal injuries and pain in the soft tissues below the surface of the skin. This light enters a few millimeters into the tissue without breaking it.
By directing the light on the body cells, physiological changes can be induced by way of a process called photobiomodulation. Cold laser therapy can be used to provide relief from both, acute and chronic pain. That’s because lasers heal by reducing inflammation. Laser therapy can also boost blood circulation, stimulate the regeneration of tissues and the healing of wounds with the minimum of scarring. This therapy can be used by itself or in conjunction with other medications and modes of treatment to provide relief to patients.
Types of Laser Therapy
Light at different wavelengths can be used to conduct various medical and therapeutic procedures. Here are some of them:
- Vision can be corrected with the help of refractive eye surgery, also called LASIK. This method is now being extended to treat cataracts and replace damaged, cloudy lens.
- Carbon Dioxide lasers can be used to treat skin cancer since they create shallow cuts on the skin.
- Argon lasers are used in cancer treatment to activate light sensitive or photosensitive drugs given to the patients. By using a combination of chemotherapy with lasers, doctors can kill cancer cells more efficiently.
- YAG lasers move along optical fibers and can be used to perform laser-induced interstitial thermotherapy to treat cancer.
- LLLT that uses light at wavelengths from 600 to 980 nanometers is used to conduct minor surgical procedures and stimulate the regeneration of tissues.
- When focused into powerful beams, lasers can be used by surgeons to work with precision on the affected area leaving most of the surrounding tissues relatively intact. As a result, patients recover faster with less of swelling, discomfort, and scarring.
- Lasers can be used in cosmetic procedures to whiten the teeth, remove scars and tattoos, and erase signs of aging like fine lines and wrinkles.
FDA Classifications of Laser Therapy
The FDA classifies the use of lasers in the medical field into three types:
- Class 4 Lasers are Surgical lasers that can cut and vaporize tissues. They can also be using for cauterizing wounds to stop bleeding.
- Class 3A Lasers are non-surgical and cannot cut or burn tissues. Therapy using these lasers is painless since the light beams do not penetrate under the skin surface and heal only superficial injuries and other conditions.
- Class 3B Lasers are also non-surgical and painless. Also called, Multiwave Locked System (MLS) laser therapy, they are used by doctors for pain management and controlling swelling in the deeper tissues and joints.
History of Laser Therapy
The theory of Light Amplification through Stimulated Emission of Radiation or LASER was first developed by Albert Einstein in 1916. Later, in 1967, Professor Andre Mester adopted the use of low-power lasers in the field of medicine. For this reason, he is also considered the Grandfather of Laser Therapy. Cold laser therapy continued to be used to world over for more than 40 years. In February 2002, a study was conducted on a group of employees at General Motors. Lasers at the power of 90 mw at 830 nm were used to treat workers with carpal tunnel syndrome with success. Based on the findings of this test, the FDA approved the adoption of Class 3B Lasers in medicine.
How Laser Therapy Works
Doctors direct cold lasers by way of a device that resembles a flashlight. As the laser is placed on the skin on the targeted area, it emits non-thermal photons of light. At the power of 90 mw and 830 nm, the light particles can pass through the layers of the skin, namely, dermis, epidermis, tissues, and layer of fat. Since they penetrate 2 to 5 centimeters of tissue, the photons reach the target area and get absorbed into the cells. Here, they interact with the photosensitive elements of the cells in a process similar to photosynthesis in plants.
In plants, the light particles are converted into energy or food that the plant can use. In human cells, the light sets off a healing process to repair the damaged tissues. As a result of the treatment, patients sense pain relief and lowering of the inflammation and edema caused by injuries. The photons can also stimulate quicker metabolism in the cells so that healing and recovery time is reduced.
How the Procedure is Conducted
Doctors choose specific wavelengths and procedures to deliver laser therapy according to the kind of medical issue they’re dealing with.
- To treat cancer, they may use a flexible tube fitted with optical fibers that emit light. They insert the tube into the mouth, nose, vagina, or anus to target and kill the cancer cells.
- Some other cancer cells are treated with a combination of photosensitive chemotherapy medication and lasers.
- For treating skin issues like cancer or cosmetic issues like lines and wrinkles, tattoos, acne scars, and other marks, lasers are applied by way of a wand directly on the skin.
- For muscular pain and inflammation, the wand is moved over the affected areas.
Typically, doctors advise the patients to avoid medications like blood thinners, a few days before the treatment. Acute conditions may need one to six sessions while chronic issues can be treated in 10 to 15 minutes. The number of sessions needed depend on the individual patient.
Precautions to Take After the Procedure
Depending on the kind of medical issue and procedure used in the treatment, doctors may recommend a few precautions to take after the treatment. Here are some of them:
- If you have opted for laser surgery, you’ll need to take adequate rest just as you might take after conventional surgery. The doctors will prescribe painkillers such as Tylenol, Advil, or Ibuprofen to help with the pain and swelling.
- You can expect some amount of redness, itching, swelling, and discomfort on the treated area if you have opted for laser therapy for skin issues. Use the prescribed ointment and dressing as directed by the doctors.
- In case you have taken laser therapy to treat prostate cancer, you might have to wear a catheter to aid urinating.
Laser therapy has many varied uses and applications for a wide range of medical and cosmetic issues. Discuss how the therapy can help you in detail with your doctors. Follow their directions and recommendations before and after the procedure and you can avail of the many benefits of the therapy.
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