The Effects of Laser Therapy on Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy
Neuropathy describes nerve damage, and while several medical conditions can cause nerve damage, diabetes is the most common. Peripheral neuropathy is the most common complication of type 2 diabetes, affecting 60-70% of people with diabetes. However, one emerging treatment is laser therapy for neuropathy.
Diabetes can damage the nerves of the peripheral nervous system, which is the network of nerves that sends signals from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body and back. Peripheral nerves send sensory information from your hands and feet to your brain, such as messages that your fingers and toes are cold. Peripheral nerves also send pain messages from your body to your brain and send instructions from your brain to your muscles, digestive organs, immune system, and more.
Research suggests laser therapy may be a possible drug-free pain relief option for neuropathy.
How Diabetes Causes Peripheral Neuropathy
Diabetes is a condition in which the body has trouble using sugar, or glucose, for energy. Your digestive tract converts the carbohydrates and sugars you eat into glucose, which your cells use as fuel. Your bloodstream transports the glucose to various parts of your body. With some help from the hormone insulin, your cells absorb the glucose and function normally. Specifically, insulin “unlocks” your cells to allow glucose inside.
Immediately after you eat, the level of glucose in your blood rises. Glucose levels drop as insulin unlocks cells to allow blood sugar absorption. In people without diabetes, the cells have no problem absorbing glucose. In people with diabetes, however, the cells become resistant to the effects of insulin. Insulin resistance causes the glucose to remain in the bloodstream instead of moving into cells.
While glucose provides energy when used correctly, the presence of excess sugar can damage delicate tissue, such as nerves. Over time, excess glucose can damage nerves and interfere with the nervous system’s ability to send signals to the spinal cord and brain. High glucose levels, also known as hyperglycemia, can damage the blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients to the nerves.
Symptoms of Neuropathy
Signs and symptoms of diabetic peripheral neuropathy typically affect a person’s feet and legs first, followed by their arms and hands. These signs and symptoms are often worse at night. Symptoms of diabetic peripheral neuropathy include:
- Numbness or reduced ability to feel temperature changes or pain
- Burning or tingling sensation
- Sharp pains or cramps
- Increased sensitivity to touch – even the weight of a bedsheet can cause pain
- Serious foot problems, such as infections, ulcers (sores), and bone and joint pain
The nerve damage and reduced sensation in your feet make it easier to injure your feet and develop infections. Because you cannot feel any discomfort, infections, ulcers, and even gangrene can develop easily. Poor circulation associated with diabetes also makes it harder for your feet to heal. In extreme cases, untreated diabetic peripheral neuropathy can even result in amputation of the extremity. More than half of all amputations performed each year are associated with diabetes.
Laser Therapy for Neuropathy Treatment
Also known as photobiomodulation (PBMT), laser therapy uses specific infrared wavelengths of light to impart health benefits. While these wavelengths are invisible to the naked eye, infrared light can cause several beneficial changes inside the body.
The light penetrates the skin to reach nerve tissue deep inside. Once absorbed by your tissues, the light stimulates the production of nerve growth factors, which are special compounds that help regenerate and heal damaged nerves. PBMT also improves the transmission of messages in peripheral nerves and strengthens the impulses traveling through the affected nerves.
The use of high-intensity laser therapy can help reduce many of the signs of diabetic peripheral neuropathy by:
- Easing pain
- Accelerating nerve repair and regeneration
- Improving nerve function
- Speeding healing
Science supports the use of laser therapy to treat diabetic peripheral neuropathy. In fact, in one study, participants with the condition who underwent PBMT enjoyed a 75 percent improvement in their diabetic neuropathy pain.
Laser therapy is also highly customizable, which makes PBMT perfect for people with diabetes, as everyone with diabetic peripheral neuropathy experiences the condition in their way. The advanced features of Apex Laser System and Aspen Laser’s TriWave technology make it the best intervention for the nonpharmacologic treatment of pain, numbness, and other symptoms of diabetic peripheral neuropathy.
For more information about how laser therapy can help treat diabetic peripheral neuropathy, consult with your healthcare professional, physical therapist, or PBMT provider.
This content was originally published on September 13, 2021, and was last updated on May 2, 2022.