Laser sounds like a serious type of treatment, however you don’t need to worry at all. It assists with relief of pain and stimulates healing in your own tissue. And most of the time you won’t even feel anything. This article will explain to you exactly what you can expect from laser treatment.

When you think of laser, you might think of laser hair removal or laser eye surgery or maybe you’ve seen someone shine a laser pointer on a screen. But have you ever heard of laser being used as a treatment by physiotherapists? There are two types of laser, high powered lasers which are used in industry and engineering settings. Physiotherapist, use a laser that is called “Low Level Laser Therapy”. These type of lasers are called cold lasers because they do not burn. There are over 4000 studies proving the effectiveness of lasers used for tissue repair.

What exactly is Laser?

The term Laser is the acronym for: Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Laser light is monochromatic, collimated, and coherent. A laser is a device that produces such a light. Now, that’s a mouthful. Let’s simplify these concepts. Light consists of waves, the same as sound waves. The light waves coming from a laser, has very specific qualities. It needs to be light waves of exactly the same colour, frequency and wavelength. And the waves move precisely parallel to each other. This creates a very concentrated, precise beam of light. Light coming from a laser, is created by specific process within the laser device to cause the controlled emission of radiation.

Why we use laser

Low level laser therapy (LLLT) is used by physiotherapists to treat various musculoskeletal conditions. It is a non-invasive light source treatment that emits no sound or vibration and very little to no heat. LLLT is believed to affect the function of connective tissue cells (fibroblasts), accelerate connective tissue repair and act to decrease inflammation. Although the skin is the organ that is naturally exposed to light more than any other organ, it still responds well to laser and infrared wavelengths.

Healing Effects of Laser
  • Ease pain
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Decrease swelling
  • Increase blood flow
  • Increase cellular metabolism
  • Improve blood supply to injured tissue
  • Break down scar tissue and adhesions
  • Increase tissue flexibility
  • Decrease muscle spasm
  • Increase cell regeneration
  • Stimulate muscle contraction

“One of the most powerful machines to accelerate tissue healing”

The Technique

Physiotherapist use laser therapy as part of their treatment, in conjunction with other treatment techniques. Laser treatment tend to last anywhere between 2 and 10 minutes, depending on the size and depth of the structure being treated.

Physiotherapist are qualified to determine if Laser treatment will benefit you. It is mostly used on structures like ligaments, tendons and joints that is made up of much more collagen. It can be applied to all kinds of musculoskeletal injuries to help reduce pain, inflammation and encourage cell reproduction. Physiotherapist are qualified to provide treatment with a Low level Laser

Different types of application

Lasers with an output power of less than 0.5 Watts are classified as LLLT (low level laser therapy), whereas lasers with an output power of more than 0.5 Watts are classified as HPLT (high power laser therapy).

  • HPLT creates heat on the surface of the skin due to their higher power density and these lasers are used in the laser medicine field to cut or destroy tissue (e.g., eye surgery)
  • LLLT is often referred to as “cold lasers” since they do not create a heating sensation during treatment. This is the type of laser therapy that is used by physiotherapists.

Lasers with wavelengths between 660 nm and 905 nm have the ability to penetrate skin, and soft/hard tissues. This light has a good effect on pain, inflammation and tissue repair. Administering LLLT below this dose range has been shown to not be effective.

Anatomical Changes you’ll notice

When the laser is placed against skin, the light penetrates it and travels several centimetres. It gets absorbed by the mitochondria in each cell (this is the part of the cell that creates energy). The energy fuels many positive physiological responses resulting in restoration of normal cell function but at enhanced rate.

The effect is photochemical not thermal, meaning it doesn’t have a heating effect in your tissues (thus, the name cold laser). The light triggers biochemical changes within your cells and can be compared to the process of photosynthesis in plants, where sunlight is absorbed by plant cells and it triggers a chemical reaction within the plant.

Changes on a cellular level:

Low level laser therapy (LLLT) is used by physiotherapists to treat various musculoskeletal conditions. It is a non-invasive light source treatment that emits no sound or vibration and very little to no heat. LLLT is believed to affect the function of connective tissue cells (fibroblasts), accelerate connective tissue repair and act to decrease inflammation. Although the skin is the organ that is naturally exposed to light more than any other organ, it still responds well to laser and infrared wavelengths.

Similar to the photosynthesis of plants, the effects of LLLT are brought about by photochemical processes in the cells’ mitochondria. Low level laser light reduces oxidative stress in the tissue while increasing ATP synthesis.

The primary effects of the biological stimulation takes place at the cellular level. Here the monochromatic red and infrared beams are absorbed by components of the respiratory chain, which enhances the electrochemical potential of protons, ATP, RNA, and protein synthesis, oxygen consumption, the membrane potential, and the synthesis of NADH.

Laser therapy feels like:

Laser light therapy can sometimes cause a slight stinging feeling, but in most cases, it causes no pain and no heat. You might feel only the pressure of the applicator on your skin as it doesn’t vibrate or make a sound. Your physiotherapist might apply it to one spot only, or a few spots.

How long does Laser treatment take?

Treatment times per point are usually between 30 seconds to a minute. As little as one point may be treated or as many as 10 to 15 points in larger areas.

However, laser light therapy will only be a part of your treatment session. Often, your physiotherapist will combine it with soft tissue techniques, massage or stretching to have a bigger and more prolonged effect.

How many times should I get laser therapy?

You could feel the effect of the laser therapy after the first session, however it works best if it can be administered repeatedly for a few weeks. It can be used in each treatment session.

Your physiotherapist will discuss a treatment plan with you, we’ll give you an idea of how long it will take for your condition to improve and how often treatment is needed. Some cases we’ll need 6-8 sessions. Mostly we see you twice during your first week, and once a week for the next two weeks and then once every second week in the next month.

What can I do at home to ensure laser therapy is effective?

Unfortunately, the effect of low light laser therapy might be temporary if the real cause of the problem isn’t addressed. Your physiotherapist will look at the bigger picture and discuss the possible causes of your pain with you. With physiotherapy treatment, it is important to comply to the whole treatment plan, including rehabilitation and conditioning. This is the best way to get long-lasting pain relief.

There are a few things you can do at home:

  • Stretch the surrounding tissue
  • Apply heat / ice to help with pain (your physio will advise you which one to use)
  • Do your prescribed home exercises

Cost of laser therapy

There are certain medical aid rates for laser therapy as a treatment, but they are always used as part of a complete treatment consultation. So, you will never be paying for only laser.

This treatment in isolation will not fix your problem. It’s the complete treatment package that shows the real improvement.

Medical Aid Code – 006

The laser treatment code 006 is used when laser therapy is used during treatment, it can take place at the same time while other techniques are being applied and rarely in isolation. Most good medical aids offer re-imbursement for laser therapy.

Does it make a difference to have an experienced physiotherapist apply laser therapy?

The experience and skill of your physio makes all the difference to identify and apply the technique accurately and with precision. This is not something you can do or copy form YouTube. You might risk making it even worse if you don’t consider how the different structures are interacting with each other.

Our physiotherapists have years of clinical experience and in depth knowledge of your body’s anatomy. They understand different painful conditions and injuries and will know exactly what manual therapy techniques are suitable to help you heal quicker.

Conditions that respond well to Laser treatment

  • Rheumatoid arthritis

  • Temporomandibular joint pain

  • Shoulder impingement syndromes

  • Hip or shoulder bursitis

  • Lower back disc pain

  • Sciatica

  • Tendonitis

  • Plantar fasciitis

Contra-indications to laser therapy

  • Malignancy/cancer in the area

  • Lasers should not be pointed at someone’s eyes and if an area close to an eye needs to be treated, appropriate safety glasses should be worn.

  • Pregnant women should not get laser treatment close to the baby

  • Epileptic, photosensitive patients could have an adverse reaction to pulsed light, so take caution with laser therapy.

Other laser treatment answers:

Yes, in the wrong hands

The laser beam is not visible, yet it reflects off surfaces like your skin and tissue that may cause the beam to reflect into your eyes, and permanently damage the light sensitive receptors at the back of your eyes.

When used correctly, no but leave the laser on one spot for too long you can cause some problems.

During the treatment, you won’t feel a thing, but you may find the area more sensitive for the first 24 hours after the laser was applied.

Laser treatment is extremely safe. Technological and medical advances in recent years have significantly lowered the chances of serious side effects.