What is the Difference Between Laser Therapy and Photobiomodulation Therapy?

You’ve probably heard the phrases “laser therapy” and “photobiomodulation therapy” tossed around and interchanged, but are they the same thing? And if not, what’s the difference?

In short, laser therapy is a type of photobiomodulation therapy, but it’s different from other therapies in the same category. Different types of photobiomodulation therapy each have different purposes, and deciding which you should add to your practice will depend on what your patients’ health goals are.


What does Photobiomodualtion mean?

Photobiomodulation is the process of light being absorbed by an organism that causes a change in the organism. Photobiomodulation therapy, or PBMT, is light therapy that utilizes nonionizing forms of light, such as lasers and LEDs in the visible and infrared spectrum.

Exposing the body to specific wavelengths of light can help regulate chemical reactions within the body. In the case of PBMT, red and near-infrared light is used to target the cytochrome C complex within the mitochondria of cells. This heme protein is responsible for electron transport, which is part of the synthesis of ATP (adenosine triphosphate). ATP transports energy for cellular functions, and stimulating the body’s cells through PBMT increases ATP synthesis, leading to increased cellular health and energy.

Natural processes triggered or energized by PBMT are those responsible for the alleviation of pain and inflammation, as well as immunomodulation, vascular and metabolic activity, wound healing, and tissue regeneration.


Types of PBMT

There are two main types of photobiomodulation therapy: LED and laser.

LED, or light emitting diodes, emit one color of light, but the wavelengths are not coherent. Light from an LED device does not move in waves parallel to each other. LED therapy devices can produce results at the surface of the skin, but they aren’t capable of penetrating to deeper tissues. As such, LED therapy is often used as a supplemental treatment for skin conditions like acne or for anti-wrinkle benefits.

Laser light has the ability to penetrate into deeper tissues to treat conditions under the skin. Like LED, laser light is monochromatic, but it is also collimated and coherent. This means the light from a laser is traveling in a single direction, and the waves of light are parallel. These properties of laser light are what allow lasers to be focused to a high intensity.

Because of their ability to emit a stronger, more concentrated light beams, laser light PBMT systems are effective for treating deep tissue concerns, like an injury to a muscle or tendon. As different power levels are needed to cause a photochemical effect, laser therapy systems often have adjustable treatment protocols to reach different tissue depths without causing harm.


Applications of PBMT Devices

There are a wide variety of photobiomodulation devices on the market today. The following are three ways the PBMT can be applied to help patients and individuals.

Acute or Chronic Pain & Inflammation

One of the most common applications of photobiomodulation therapy is to reduce pain and inflammation for both acute and chronic conditions. Laser therapy systems are best suited for this application as they have the ability to treat at any tissue depth to accurately target the area of concern. PBMT increases inflammatory mediators and reduces damaging free radical levels to help control painful inflammation.

Wound Healing & Scar Prevention

Another application of photobiomodulation is to increase the speed of healing for wounds and preventing the formation of scar tissue. PBMT stimulates fibroblast development in damaged tissue, increasing collagen production and allowing for proper alignment and remodeling of collagen. These processes accelerate wound healing and reduce the formation of scar tissue following damage from repetitive motion injuries, cuts, scratches, burns, or surgery

Sports Performance

One of the more common applications of LED light therapy is enhancing sports performance. Full-body LED light beds and LED light panels are used by individual athletes, fitness centers, and professional teams to reduce muscle soreness and promote strength and endurance.


Helping Patients Reach Their Goals

With the right PBMT device at your facility, you can help your patients reach their health goals. Patients looking for relief from chronic pain and inflammation from causes like osteoarthritis or tendonitis will benefit from a laser therapy system, as well as those looking to help with wound healing for injuries or post-surgery. Patients focused on enhancing their muscle strength or endurance will benefit more from a full-body LED application of PBMT.


If you’re looking to add photobiomodulation therapy to your practice or facility, you can learn more about our Aspen Laser products through the link below.

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