Laser Therapy as an Emerging Treatment for Traumatic Brain Injuries
Traumatic brain injuries often make headlines for their damaging effects on athletes and military personnel. These injuries can happen to anyone, unfortunately, and they can cause permanent effects on our daily lives even after one injury. Treating these types of injuries can also be tricky.
Laser therapy is being investigated as possible treatment both immediately following an injury and reducing the symptoms of individuals suffering from chronic concerns years after the injury occurred.
What is a Traumatic Brain Injury?
A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is an injury caused by a blow or jolt to the head, including injuries where an object penetrates the brain tissue, such as a projectile or skull fragment. Traumatic brain injuries are generally categorized into mild, moderate, and severe, but it’s important to note that this scale is relative to this type of injury. A mild TBI is still a serious injury.
The most common TBI is a concussion, in which a sudden blow to the head causes the brain to be shaken around inside the skull. Other types of TBIs include:
- Brain contusion, or a bruise or bleeding on the brain
- Coup-contrecoup brain injury, where the brain is affected at the site of impact and directly opposite as a result of force
- Diffuse axonal injury, where the head moves so violently that damage occurs to the brain stem
Individuals who experience a TBI can experience lasting changes to their physical ability, concentration, behavior, mood, and senses. The risk and severity of these complications also goes up with repeated injury, especially in the months following the initial injury.
Who is at risk for a TBI?
While everyone can potentially sustain a TBI, some groups are at a higher risk than others. These groups are:
- Athletes of any sport, but particularly contact sports
- Military personnel in training or active duty
- Individuals with fall risks, such as senior citizens and young children
Additionally, TBIs are common injuries from vehicle accidents, either from a blow to the head during the accident or whiplash from the head lurching forward and springing back.
Complications for Treating TBI
The most important thing to know about TBIs is that the effects are often chronic. TBIs can, and often do, cause permanent damage. Individuals who’ve experienced a TBI are also at a higher risk for seizures, sleep disorders, neurodegenerative diseases, and psychiatric diseases. Someone who’s experienced a TBI should be consistently treated by their health professionals with their TBI in mind.
Additionally, at-risk individuals, especially athletes and military personnel, are at a higher risk for a repeat injury. Repeated TBIs increase the risk for permanent and severe damage, as well as the risk for degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia pugilistica or “boxer’s dementia.”
Treating TBIs can be difficult simply because the skull is made up of thick bone. In addition to making surgery difficult, the thickness of our skulls in the event of a TBI can be counterproductive. Without a lot of space to expand, swelling in the brain has to be controlled in order to prevent more damage or cause death.
Laser Therapy for TBI
Laser therapy is being explored as a way to treat TBIs. High-powered near-infrared (NIR) class IV laser therapy devices have been shown to effectively penetrate through the skull and deliver impactful amounts of light to the brain. While there is still more research to be done, Aspen Laser worked with scientists and the Neuro-Laser Foundation to conduct a study on the effects of high-powered laser therapy on individuals with TBIs.
The study involved 10 individuals with chronic TBI, or lasting damage from severe or repeated TBIs. Treatment durations and dosages varied based on the patient, but patients either received treatment in 10 or 20 visits.
The study found that overall, patients saw improved mood and sleep. In fact, all ten patients had their sleep concerns resolved and anxiety and depression was down across the board. Additionally, five of the patients reported thoughts of suicide before treatment began, and all five no longer had those thoughts after the treatment was completed. Additionally, two individuals who did not have jobs improved their mental state to a point where they were able to find and retain employment following the study.
Laser Therapy for TBI Immediately Following Injury
Some studies on animals have been done to examine the effect of NIR laser therapy on a TBI immediately or within days following the injury. They found that dosage and timing were critical to seeing improved neurologic function.
Treatments performed within 4 hours of the injury had a significant effect on improving neurological function, but waiting 6 or 8 hours had very little or no effect. Additionally, repeated treatments for a window of 3 days showed great improvement, but continuing treatment in days following weren’t as effective as that first 3-day window. And lastly, pulsed light showed greater benefits than continuous wave treatment.
Benefits of Laser Therapy for Treating TBI
While more testing and treatment protocol development is needed, high-powered NIR laser therapy is a promising avenue for reducing the symptoms of TBI, especially where symptoms are chronic and impact quality of life.
Laser therapy is a painless, noninvasive, outpatient treatment, making it preferable over surgery whenever possible. Additionally, laser therapy increases cell proliferation and repair, leading to smaller lesions. Smaller lesions also indicate a potential decrease in cell apoptosis, or programmed cellular death.
Learn more about laser therapy as a treatment for traumatic brain injury in the full paper, published in the journal, Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment in August 2015. Find the full paper through the link below.