Doctors have been using light to heal for a long while and are still using it today. Danish doctor Niels Finsen received the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1903 for his work with red-light therapy to treat tuberculosis and smallpox. In the 1970s, Dr. John Ott demonstrated that different wavelengths of light have varying influences on cellular function. In the 1990s, NASA used LED lights to heal astronauts’ wounds more quickly. And, in 2002 the first blue-light therapy was approved by the FDA as a treatment for acne. That’s why it’s no surprise to medical professionals that cold laser light therapy is used today.
What is Cold Laser Light Therapy?
Cold laser light therapy (CLLT) is a medical treatment using low-powered lasers to stimulate, heal, and restore damaged or inflamed tissues. It’s referred to as cold laser light therapy because the levels of red and near-infrared light used aren’t high enough to heat the cells that they are treating, unlike the high-powered lasers used to extract tumors, perform surgery, and cauterize wounds. While relatively new, this treatment has collected several names.
Other names for cold laser light therapy include:
- Low-level laser therapy (LLLT)
- Low-power laser therapy (LPLT)
- Soft laser biostimulation
- Laser phototherapy
- Low-power laser irradiation
The device used to administer the treatment is fairly small, around the size of a flashlight. The clinician places the device over the target area for anywhere from a few seconds to thirty minutes. During the treatment process, laser photons penetrate through the epidermis and dermis and into the subcutaneous tissue under the skin surface. The non-invasive therapy is painless, quick, and leaves no marks, making it an enticing alternative to surgery or pain medications. These treatments can be utilized on their own or used to supplement more aggressive treatments.
What Cold Laser Light Can Do
Cold light therapy is a versatile treatment that can help to speed healing for several musculoskeletal and skin-related issues. Some of the conditions this procedure helps to diminish or prevent include carpal tunnel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, skin blemishes, and tuberculosis. It also reduces some forms of acute or chronic pain, speeds up the wound healing process, and prevents oral mucositis in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. CLLT has even shown promise as a way to reduce the pain and swelling in lymphedema related to breast cancer.
What Cold Laser Light Might or Might Not Do
Although this process is helpful for many different conditions, it isn’t a cure-all. For some conditions, it only addresses a portion of the problem. For instance, CLLT seems to improve mobility for those with a frozen shoulder or temporomandibular disorder but does not appear to be effective at relieving the related shoulder pain.
Research on conditions like hair loss, traumatic brain injury, and lower back pain have all had mixed results. Some studies show positive results in these areas, but others registered little to no difference before and after treatment. In addition, some studies that indicated improvement were dismissed as overly biased. Many businesses advertise cold laser light to reduce wrinkles, touting it as a safe and natural facelift. The FDA, however, states it has seen no studies that constitute valid scientific evidence of its effectiveness for this purpose.
Drawbacks of Cold Laser Light Therapy
While this is a safe treatment with fewer side effects than medications, it isn’t the perfect solution to every situation. It can be expensive, running between $50 to $250 per session, and typically requires multiple visits to complete the treatment. Furthermore, most insurance companies will only cover the cost of this procedure for a handful of conditions, most commonly oral mucositis, so you may have to pay out of pocket to get treatment.
Another disadvantage of cold laser light therapy is the length of time needed before it takes effect. While pain medications such as NSAIDs can provide pain relief within just a few hours, CLLT typically requires several sessions before there are any noticeable results. Fortunately, it can safely be used in conjunction with pain medications, making the waiting period more tolerable.
Although this is considered a safe treatment method for most individuals, it should not be used under, on, or near cancerous lesions or carcinomas. Pregnant women are also cautioned against using this method of treatment, as there have been no conclusive studies on the safety of unborn children.
Treatments with cold laser therapy are often effective in treating a number of varying health conditions, but not quite as many as claimed. Research using this healing method is ongoing, and new uses are continuing to be tested. It is advantageous for restoring mobility, stimulating healing, and relieving pain and inflammation for conditions it successfully treats.
It’s important to note that CLLT has a cumulative effect rather than an immediate one. It may take several treatment sessions to see results, which can be rather expensive. On the other hand, it is non-invasive, painless, and has no known negative side effects. This makes it an excellent alternative therapy for individuals healing from injuries or suffering from chronic pain who can’t or don’t want to take pain medications. The positive effects of CLLT for pain management can improve a person’s quality of life. If you’re considering it, talk to a qualified practitioner to see if you would be a good candidate for cold-laser therapy. They can also discuss any known side effects that might affect you.