How Does Laser Therapy Benefit Athletes?
Laser therapy is known for its anti-inflammation and pain relieving benefits, but it can also be applied for beneficial results without an injury or chronic issue present. This is most common in sports performance, where laser therapy can help athletes reach their goals without injury.
Professional and collegiate athletes and teams have begun using laser therapy to help with performance, like warm-up and endurance, as well as preventing injuries and treating injuries during the first signs, as opposed to when the problem becomes severe. This means more athletes get to stay in the game and have fewer sports-related injuries.
How Laser Therapy Affects Athletic Performance
One important aspect of sports performance that laser therapy affects is muscle fatigue. Muscle fatigue is the loss of a muscle’s ability to generate force, most often caused by repetitive muscle contractions. Lifting weights, running a marathon, or a lengthy program in performative sports can all be affected by muscle fatigue. In fact, in figure skating, skaters receive a 10% bonus on the base value for jumps they perform in the second half of their programs—a reward for attempting a difficult maneuver after the body’s become fatigued.
Laser therapy has been identified to impact muscle fatigue in two ways:
- Increased mitochondrial action, resulting in higher cellular respiration and ATP synthesis
- Inhibited LDH activity, resulting in lower lactate levels
Increased Mitochondrial Action
Mitochondria are cellular organelles responsible for cellular respiration and the synthesis of adenosine triphosphate (ATP)—both important parts of exercise at the cellular level. Laser therapy treatments have a photochemical effect on mitochondria that allows them to provide higher levels of respiration and ATP to cells, providing more energy to the body’s muscles.
There are several mechanisms affected by laser therapy that are involved in processes performed by mitochondria. One result is larger mitochondria as a result of increased membrane potential that allows smaller mitochondria to morph together. The larger organelles provide higher levels of cellular respiration and ATP synthesis, allowing for greater oxygen consumption by the body and reduced muscle fatigue. This effect is helpful for endurance, like our figure skater needs for a long program.
Inhibited LDH Activity
LDH is the enzyme that reduces pyruvate into lactate, which is part of anaerobic metabolism and results in lactic acid buildup during anaerobic metabolism. Anaerobic cellular metabolism is common during exercises that occur in short bursts like sprints or weight lifting. Lactic acid and other metabolites build up during anaerobic exercise, which causes that burning feeling during strenuous exercise. The way laser therapy modulates LDH inhibits its activity, resulting in less build up of lactic acid in the muscles and reduced muscle fatigue.
How Laser Therapy Helps Prevent Injury
Laser therapy as part of a warm-up before physical activity can help prevent injury. The goal of a warm-up is to gradually increase your heart rate and circulation to loosen joints and increase blood flow to your muscles, and laser therapy helps with this process. One effect of laser therapy is vasodilation, which is a widening of the blood vessels that promotes blood flow to the area treated. The goal of the warm-up is to get the body ready for more intense activity, and using laser therapy enhances this process, reducing the risk of injury from unprepared muscles.
This is especially helpful for athletes who rely on a particular joint or muscle group for their activities, such as a ballet dancer who relies on her feet and ankles to support her body in her pointe shoes or a baseball pitcher who relies on his shoulder. Applying laser therapy as part of a warm-up ensures proper circulation and blood flow to the areas that need it most.
How Laser Therapy Helps with Muscle Soreness
Additionally, applying laser therapy after a workout can help reduce muscle soreness in the following days. The exact cause of delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is unknown, but the research suggests that it’s likely due to slight muscle damage and a combination of metabolites at higher levels. This causes an inflammatory response—which laser therapy is excellent at treating.
Vasodilation combined with increased cellular energy from a laser therapy session increases the ability for inflammatory mediators to get to the affected area, allowing for quicker resolution of inflammation and reduced pain from muscle soreness. Repairing the damage done from a workout quickly also helps prevent a more serious injury later on.
Laser therapy can be applied even when there isn’t a specific injury or concern. Athletes need to keep their bodies in top condition at all times, and laser therapy is a powerful tool to help athletes stay strong and keep playing. If you’re interested in seeing how laser therapy can help you, even if you’re only a recreational athlete, click the link below to find an Aspen Laser therapy provider near you.