What You Need to Know about Managing Pain with High Intensity Laser Therapy
Chronic pain—it’s something facing many individuals every single day, and likely to affect most of us at some point in our lives. While plenty of chronic pain conditions are attributed to aging, other factors like injury, occupation, genetic predisposition, and even gender can jumpstart diseases that cause chronic pain.
Common treatments for chronic pain and inflammation include NSAID pain relievers, physical or occupational therapy, heat and cold therapy, and corticosteroid injections. While physical and occupational therapy can help make life more comfortable, regain muscle and joint strength, and slow the deterioration of tissue, medications and injections don’t provide long-lasting relief from pain. Not to mention the potential harm caused by regular use of NSAIDs, such as kidney or liver damage.
If you’re suffering from chronic pain, you might be thinking, “What choice do I have?”
High intensity laser therapy, also known as HILT, is an option for relief from chronic pain that provides longer lasting effects—without the use of medication. HILT is a pain-free, non-invasive procedure that can be used alone or in combination with physical or occupational therapy.
While there are plenty of studies that show the effects of HILT on individuals with chronic pain, we’ve picked two to go over that focus on common conditions: osteoarthritis and chronic back pain.
How HILT is Known to Treat Pain
Before we dive into the specific research, let’s talk about the effect of HILT on the body and how that treats pain and inflammation.
High intensity laser therapy is known to have biostimulating effects on the body, which means laser radiation from a HILT device supplies additional energy to cells, where it affects the cells’ metabolism by increasing the production of ATP in the cells’ mitochondria. This increased ATP production leads to faster reparative processes in the body and results in the reduction of pain and inflammation in areas treated with HILT.
HILT for Osteoarthritis of the Knee: A single-blind, placebo controlled study
Osteoarthritis is defined by the Arthritis Foundation as a condition “that occurs when the cartilage or cushion between joints breaks down leading to pain, stiffness, and swelling.” Osteoarthritis, or OA, is the most common type of arthritis, and sometimes referred to as “wear and tear” arthritis or degenerative joint disease. OA is commonly experienced in the hands, wrists, back, hips, and knees, as they’re joints associated with repetitive, excess use or are weight bearing joints.
OA tends to develop over time as we use our bodies throughout our lives, and the group most affected by OA is the elderly (those ages 60 and older). In fact, OA is the main cause of musculoskeletal pain and disability in elderly populations. OA can occur earlier in life as well, and the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that moderate to severe disability caused by OA is experienced by 43.4 million people worldwide.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for OA. Common treatments for OA, such as physical therapy, pain medication, and heat and cold therapy, aim to reduce pain and swelling, increase mobility, and slow the loss of tissue, but surgical intervention may become necessary to replace damaged joints.
This 2016 study conducted by scientists at the Medical University of Plovdiv in Bulgaria set out to test the efficacy of high-intensity laser therapy (HILT) on osteoarthritis for reducing pain long-term. The study included 72 patients between the ages of 39 and 83 with clinically proven osteoarthritis of the knee. In this single-blind, placebo controlled study, half the participants received HILT treatment of 1064nm with maximum power output of 12W to the affected area once per day for seven days. The other half received a placebo treatment.
Pain was measured using a visual analog scale (VAS) and dolorimetry. Patients assigned a numerical value of their pain from 1-10 for the VAS, where 1 was no pain and 10 was the worst pain. Dolorimetry is a measure of pain tolerance using a dolorimeter, which applies pressure or heat to a spot on a patient and measures how much is needed for the patient to feel pain.
The results of the study found that the HILT group experienced significant reduction in their pain at rest, on palpation (touched for examination by a physician), and during motion, while the control group experienced little or no change in pain. The participants had pain levels tested again at one and three months, and the study found that pain reduction for the HILT group held over the three month period.
Overall, the study concluded that HILT demonstrated a strong immediate, cumulative, and long lasting effect on the reduction of pain for patients with osteoarthritis in the knee.
HILT for Chronic Back Pain
Another persisting medical issue for adults is chronic back pain. Causes of spinal back pain vary as widely as the individuals who suffer from it, but nearly every person will experience back pain at some point in their life. Major factors affecting back pain are posture, weight, age, and occupation, and back pain can cause severe restriction of movement and disability.
A study conducted in 2017 by physicians at Kyungpook National University Hospital in South Korea tested the effects of HILT for the treatment of chronic back pain. The group of 20 individuals were all diagnosed by a physician via examination and X-ray to have persistent back pain for three or more months, but did not have surgery, previous injury, tumor, or an inflammatory disease causing the pain.
Half of the patients were treated with physical therapy in combination with HILT, and the other half only received physical therapy. They were treated three times a week for four weeks, and pain was measured with a VAS while function was measured with the Oswestry Disability Index (ODI).
While the authors admitted the sample size was small, they found that pain was significantly reduced in the group receiving HILT in addition to physical therapy. VAS scores reported before and after treatment dropped 3.5 points (7.0 ± 0.8 to 3.4 ± 0.8), while the reduction of pain in the physical therapy-only group was much less significant (0.8 points reduced pain).
If you’re looking for relief from chronic pain, HILT is an option with proven, long-lasting effects without the use of pain relieving medication. Aspen Laser devices are HILT backed by 30 years of experience in the design, manufacturing, and production of laser therapy devices. Find a provider with an Aspen Laser HILT device with our physician finder through the link below.