What is High Intensity Laser Therapy?
High intensity laser therapy is a state-of-the-art treatment using high-powered class IV lasers that deliver deep-penetrating healing red and near-infrared light, which promote the healing of musculoskeletal tissue deep inside the body. Laser therapy uses a process known as photobiomodulation (PBMT), in which light triggers a cascade of biological events to increase cellular metabolism and decrease both pain and inflammation. High intensity laser therapy stimulates healing in tissues other treatments cannot reach and without the need for dangerous opioid drugs or invasive surgery.
The Role of Wavelength in High Intensity Laser Therapy
Medical professionals discuss light wavelengths in terms of nanometers (nm), which is a unit of measurement that equals one thousand millionths of a meter. The human eye can detect wavelengths of 380 to 750 nanometers, with light wavelengths of 450 – 485nm appearing blue and wavelengths of 625–700nm appearing red.
The lasers used in laser therapy have higher wavelengths that the human eye cannot see, and each wavelength can provide a different therapeutic effect. Laser therapy systems typically involve the use of three specific wavelengths:
- 810nm wavelength: Stimulates the delivery of oxygen to red blood cells, which helps muscles and tendons regenerate
- 980nm wavelength: Eases pain, improves circulation, and enhances muscle relaxation
- 1064nm wavelength: Penetrates tissue deep inside the body to activate metabolic processes in deeper tissue
Used alone for high intensity treatments or in combination with other wavelengths, 1064nm wavelength yields results other therapies cannot offer. The power output of high intensity laser devices is important too, in that the repair of scar tissue at the surface of the skin requires different power than does the treatment of tissue deep inside the body.
Biologic Effects of High Intensity Laser Therapy
High intensity laser therapy offers a variety of beneficial biologic effects, from boosting energy inside cells to promoting healing of tissues deep within the body. Practitioners may suggest high intensity laser therapy for the treatment of:
- Muscle strains
- Ligament sprains
- Tennis elbow
- Neck pain
- Lower back pain
- Knee pain
- Pain from muscle spasms
Exposure to specific light wavelengths stimulates specific chemical reactions in the body. Specifically, photobiomodulation therapy excites the mitochondria, known as the “powerhouse” of the cells. Mitochondria use oxygen to turn nutrients into chemical energy that the cell uses to function. Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) transports this energy around the cell. Mitochondria also make ATP, so stimulating mitochondria with light promotes the production of energy and ATP within the treated cells, which helps improve function and healing of those cells.
PBMT also activates myogenic satellite cells, also known as muscle stem cells, to stimulate the regeneration of muscle tissue. In other words, high intensity laser therapy penetrates deeply into injured muscle tissue to promote healing. Once inside, the red light can speed healing, improve nerve function, and stimulate the immune system. High intensity laser therapy can also dilate blood vessels and activate the lymphatic drainage system to reduce swelling caused by bruising or inflammation.
Laser therapy treatments are customizable, which allows your healthcare professional to tailor your treatment protocol to your specific needs. The treatment provider can adjust the strength of the laser and its bandwidth to allow the laser light to saturate tissues at specific depths beneath the skin.
High intensity laser therapy provides a number of health benefits, including:
- Reducing inflammation
- Accelerating tissue repair and cell growth
- Easing pain
- Improving blood flow
- Increasing metabolic activity
- Reducing the formation of scars
- Stimulating muscle trigger points and acupuncture points to relieve musculoskeletal pain
- Improving nerve function
- Supporting the immune system
- Speeding wound healing
What to Expect with High Intensity Laser Therapy
There are a variety of photobiomodulation devices, such as PBMT beds, panels and laser devices. The healthcare provider uses a device to deliver laser light to muscles and other high intensities, which readily absorb the light. The procedure is painless and non-invasive—you will only feel the laser device touching your skin. You will not feel any vibration or uncomfortable heat, although some patients report a warm, soothing sensation. High intensity laser devices do not make any sound, so it is a calming experience.
High intensity laser therapy is safe for most people; talk to your provider before having high intensity laser therapy if you have any special health consideration.
There is no special preparation for red light therapy. Each high intensity laser treatment takes only a few minutes, and there is no downtime associated with the procedure. You can resume your normal activities right away.
If you are like most, you will feel better immediately after your first session. Depending on your condition, you may enjoy lasting results after undergoing several treatments.
High intensity laser therapy is a highly effective and pain-free approach to treating musculoskeletal conditions and other health issues. For more information about high intensity laser therapy, find your local Aspen Laser provider: