Laser Therapy: Another Tool in the Physical Therapist’s Arsenal
This blog article about using laser therapy to reduce pain or immobility caused by chronic conditions was written by Maureen Madden, PT, OSC
For many people with chronic conditions, traditional physical therapy modalities get them back to most activities, but some people still experience a lingering issue. In these cases, a part of the body – maybe the muscle tissues – don’t complete the healing process. This happens even though the mechanical environment is suitable.
For these lingering issues, a treatment option with promising results exists to help people live their best, pain-free lives.
Laser therapy is a non-invasive technique that can reduce pain and inflammation and improve post-activity recovery. This treatment option may be unknown to some, but many physical therapy professionals are passionate about its promising results.
Continue reading to learn how physical therapists are using laser therapy to help reduce pain caused by chronic conditions.
How Does It Work?
Laser therapy is a non-invasive technique that can reduce pain and inflammation and improve post-activity recovery.
Whether your pain is due to a chronic or acute condition, laser therapy may help support the healing process. It works by reducing inflammation. This is similar to adding a specialized fuel to your gas tank. Your body is already working to heal you. However, this treatment helps “spark the engine” to get all pistons firing at full speed.
Laser therapy is based on the phenomenon of photobiomodulation. One definition of this term comes from the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery. They describe it as light energy penetrating the body’s tissues, leading to changes at the molecular, cellular, and tissue levels. This accelerates wound healing and tissue regeneration as well as many other benefits.
Treatments generally last between 5 and 15 minutes apiece, depending on conditions of the treatment. These treatments are administered directly to the skin, since laser light cannot penetrate through layers of clothing. You will feel a soothing warmth as the therapy is administered.
You should never feel pain.
Depending on the condition being treated, your therapy may be administered through either a contact or non-contact handpiece. The contact handpiece is designed to allow the therapist to physically manipulate the tissue while administering the treatment. This results in a laser-massage treatment. This also allows for light to penetrate deeper into tissues than the non-contact handpiece. This is due to its ability to displace tissue through a laser-massage technique.
Laser therapy is not a “miracle’ for everyone.
Many physical therapists view anything that has the potential to reduce pain and increase function as an option to consider. Some clinics use a “trial” method to introduce this therapy option to patients.
In these cases, one or two introductory treatments are performed. These sessions give patients and physical therapists a chance to get comfortable with the treatment. It also provides some small and almost immediate changes, but for true efficacy, more sessions are necessary.
From there, your physical therapist will customize a treatment plan based on your condition. Patients typically see results after 6 to 10 sessions. Patients who go through the full treatment plan and combine it with great physical therapy sessions often see the most profound and lasting results.
Laser therapy will never replace the power of skilled, hands-on physical therapy, but it really is a great addition for getting people across the finish line.
What are the Benefits of Laser Therapy?
Though physical therapists and other medical professionals are still learning about all of the benefits, early results are promising. Some of the reported uses and improvements for patients include:
- Pain Relief
- Anti-inflammatory properties
- Accelerated Tissue Repair and Cell Growth
- Faster Wound Healing
- Stem Cell Activation
Any one of these benefits alone is cause for celebration for patients accustomed to living with pain. However, many of these benefits occur in conjunction with each other. What does this mean? This type of therapy is beneficial for a wider range of chronic and acute pain patients.
What Conditions Can Laser Therapy Help Treat?
Injuries that result in patients being almost (but not quite) back to full capacity include the following:
- Chronic Achilles tendonitis
- Tendinopathy in the shoulder/rotator cuff
- Plantar fasciitis
- Tennis elbow
Specific Examples of Use
Inflammation and sports injuries are two of the leading causes of pain that physical therapists use laser therapy to treat. These two conditions are quite common, impacting the lives of thousands of patients each day. But how does this modality treat each of these scenarios and improve patient health and mobility?
For inflammation, laser therapy enlarges the smaller arteries and lymph vessels. This is called vasodilation. The process promotes lymphatic draining, improving the healing process as time passes. Lasers decrease the likelihood of continued inflammation, reducing inflammation, swelling and edema (which is excess fluid gathering in parts of the body).
Common sports injuries respond well to this treatment. These include
- Muscle sprains
- Hamstring pulls
- Plantar fasciitis
- Many more conditions
It doesn’t matter if you’re running for pleasure or training for the Olympics, laser therapy works for pain management.
Word of Mouth Promotes the Benefits of Class IV Laser Therapy
Who Benefits from Laser Therapy?
As mentioned above, there are some common conditions that improve from the use of laser therapy – as well as some with not-so-common health issues.
- Plantar fasciitis
- Extensor tendinitis
- Chronic swelling
- Chronic cervical pain
Even physical therapists use it for their own injuries. What’s better than using the same treatment the pros trust on themselves?
In one clinic, two physical therapy professionals used laser treatment to drain their stuffed sinuses! These uses are promising. They reinforce the long-term value of laser therapy to the physical therapy practice as a whole.
This isn’t simply a tool that will fade out of use quickly. Instead, it’s one that helps acute patients recover faster as well as help push chronic patients closer to full relief.
Another plus? Patient feedback at this same clinic – PT Pro, Inc. – has been wildly positive. Common responses and feelings include three very important benefits.
- Patients comment that they get the best night’s sleep after laser treatment.
- They report that their pain significantly decreases.
- Patients report an increase in mobility!
Trusting a New Physical Therapy Treatment Options Takes Time
In order to understand the benefits of options like laser therapy, you don’t need to try them yourself first. Instead, listen to what others like you have to say about them.
Hearing six or seven physical therapists sit on a stage describing how the laser helped many of their patients, spouses, and themselves helps. Talking with other patients – or even just reading about their experiences on trusted forums and message boards helps, too.
Why not try a technique physical therapists trust for themselves?
Before adopting laser therapy in the clinic, a therapist chose to try it on his own chronic wrist pain. His wrist pain didn’t prevent him from working, but he frequently had to use tape to provide patients with care. His pain would worsen after providing heavy manual treatment to his patients.
Though this therapist didn’t see or feel a difference after the first two treatments, he stuck with it. This was a great decision for him. By the end of the recommended 6 treatments, (two per week for three weeks in total) he was feeling better. There was no need to continue taping his wrist after busy days.
Armed with his own success story, this therapist was able to recommend and provide laser therapy to his patients. Physical therapy focuses on hands-on care as well as continuing education. Many therapists pride themselves on maintaining a 1-hour, 1-on-1 patient care model. Therefore, your care and treatment plan rely very little on any passive modality.
That said, there are benefits to using proven technologies to enhance a patient’s recovery.
This is well worth it. Specifically, when the laser therapy helps give you that final push you need to succeed with your treatment. A few extra hours of staff commitment?
Take the Next Step and Learn More About Laser Therapy from Your Physical Therapist
This might seem like a lot of information to take in, and that’s not entirely untrue.
But rather than reading about it, why not reach out to your local physical therapy provider? Speaking with someone that is more familiar with laser therapy is always a good plan, and may even make you more likely to request a demo for your pain management needs.
Laser therapy’s benefits are numerous – that isn’t up for debate. Five important factors to remember include:
- It reduces pain and inflammation without side effects.
- Laser therapy is often used to treat chronic conditions.
- Treatments are customized for each situation.
- These treatments make patients feel better.
- Treatments are fast.
Don’t wait any longer. Use the BetterPT clinic location tool or download the app and find a location near you that offers laser therapy. While the actual treatments cannot be done via Telehealth (like through the BetterTelehealth platform), initial consultations and information gathering sessions can.
Set yourself up for future success and pain relief with laser therapy. The sooner you begin, the sooner you’ll see – and feel – the results!
Maureen Madden has had the opportunity to work with doctors and patients from Colorado, Arizona, San Francisco, and Seattle. She graduated Cum Laude from the University of Connecticut with a B.S. in Allied Health and an Honors Scholar in Physical Therapy in 1991. Madden is Board Certified as a Clinical Specialist in Orthopedics with the American Physical Therapy Association. She has worked in a range of settings, from treating the injured worker to the professional (NBA, NHL, NFL) and X-game athlete. Madden has worked very closely with multiple orthopedic surgeons and physiatrists. She has always focused on hands-on care and precise exercise prescription. Maureen has experience in rowing, rock climbing, mountain biking, weight training, marathon running and mountaineering. She spends all of her free time with her husband and two active daughters.