Low Level Laser Therapy, commonly known as LLLT, cold or soft laser, or laser photobiostimulation, is a form of phototherapy which involves the application of monochromatic and coherent light to injuries and lesions to stimulate healing.
Unlike non-coherent light emitting devices, such as common LEDs and so-called SLDs (just a marketing name for infrared LEDs), the coherent, monochromatic and polarised radiation emitted by LASER has unique, specific and scientifically-proven effects that persist deep into the tissue.
Laser therapy is used to increase the speed, quality and tensile strength of tissue repair, resolve inflammation, and give pain relief.
How does it work?
The effects of laser therapy are photochemical and photomechanical, not thermal – at least, not on a macro-scale.
There are two primary forms of effects generated by laser irradiation of biological tissues: photon-absorption (the basis of photobiological action, and generated by all forms of light), and speckle formation, which is unique to laser therapy.
Photon-absorption effects occur when photons enter the tissue and are absorbed by photoreceptive molecules, called chromophores, in the mitochondria and at the cell membrane. Photonic energy is then converted to chemical energy within the cell, and is utilised in the form of ATP.
A number of the effects of laser irradiation, however, are unique, and are due to the speckle field that is created when coherent laser radiation is reflected, refracted and scattered. The speckle field is not simply a phenomenon created at and limited to the tissue surface, but is generated within a volume of tissue, persisting to the total extent of the depth of penetration of the laser beam.
Laser speckles formed deep in the tissue create temperature and pressure gradients across cell membranes, increasing the rate of diffusion across those membranes. Further, photons within each speckle are highly polarised, leading to an increased probability of photon absorption (one possible reason for why laser therapy has been shown to consistently out-perform other non-coherent light sources, especially for deeper tissue treatments).
Laser therapy has been found to offer superior healing and pain relieving effects compared to other electrotherapeutic modalities, especially in the early stages of acute injuries, and for chronic problems. Low-level lasers can also be used for Acupuncture Point stimulation.
Laser therapy is a universal method of treating muscle, tendon, ligament, connective tissue, bone and skin tissue with one simple piece of equipment, however excellent results are also achieved when it is used to complement other treatment modalities, such as ice for acute injuries, or shockwave for more chronic conditions.
It is especially popular in the treatment of competition horses, racing greyhounds and agility dogs.
The portability and diversity of battery and mains-powered diode laser systems allows treatment to be carried out in clinical, hospital, and field locations. This opens up possibilities for the immediate and therefore more effective treatment of sporting and athletic injuries, such as muscle tears, haematomas, and tendinopathies.
It is an attractive form of treatment for both human and animal athletes, especially those involved in professional sports, due to the prospect of shorter recovery and lay-off times. Importantly for athletes, laser therapy is a non-invasive, drug-free modality that can be applied on competition day without risking disqualification by drug-vetting tests.