There are many major health conditions that many of us deal with on a daily basis. Heart conditions, obesity, diabetes and general fitness issues tend to receive plenty of coverage. It is easy to forget that many of us deal with chronic, persistent pain.
Many of us do what we can to just keep going. Some may work through it and see it as a norm; others will take a cocktail of drugs to numb the worst of it. Joint problems, back complaints, arthritis, and osteoporosis, are all crippling without the right treatment.
There are now calls to turn to laser treatments for pain relief, as an alternative to typical measures. Alternative therapies in pain treatment lessen the need to rely on dangerous prescriptions.
With the current rise in addiction to painkillers, particularly opiates, it makes sense for all those dealing with chronic pain, to look for alternative solutions to the problem. Painkiller prescriptions are the easy answer for chronic pain. Any patient struggling with issues like back problems, joint issues, fibro, migraines and more get a frequent package of pills to numb the pain.
The problem is that these chemical drugs can damage our bodies over time with regular use. It is also far too easy to develop an addition to these substances and a state of dependency. We get to a point where the pills may keep a patient numb without actually doing all that much good.
This is why practitioners are turning to new and/or alternative modalities as treatment options for their patients.
Alternative treatments are essential for complementary therapy, particularly when patients no longer want to rely on a chemical solution or find that tradition prescriptions are ineffective. Laser treatments may not be top of the list for many people considering the best alternative, but that is because few are aware of the potential benefits.
(Source: Louisa Graves)
Here we want to look at the pros and cons of this new approach for pain relief. We will discuss the efficiency of the method and effect on targeting deep-rooted pain. We will also look at related issues such as cost, risks and the possibility of undergoing red light therapy for pain treatment at home. This will allow us to weigh up the pros and cons of this new solution to see if it has much worth to patients.
What is Light Therapy or Laser Therapy?
Laser therapy comes in many forms. Some people will be more familiar with the approach of chromotherapy and the light-based treatments on different wavelengths. We will discuss these further a little later. Here we have a more intense form of red laser light that penetrates deep into the skin to target the cells and combat causes of pain and discomfort.
Generally speaking, this light reaches between two to ten millimeters into the skin. The red wavelengths also vary depending on the purpose, with most practitioners working with light between 800 and 1200. This laser treatment comes under many different names, such as Photobiomodulation, Photonic Stimulation, and Photorejuvenation, but they all refer to the same basic approach. It is all about manipulating and stimulating a biological response in cells with light (photo) for rejuvenation and better health.
High Intensity vs. Low Intensity
It is also important to note here that there are two different types of red light therapy for pain treatment. They are the high intensity and low-intensity options. Many newcomers will start off with the low-intensity light therapy with the weaker Class III laser. This is because users regard it as the safer approach, with little to no risk of damage or side effects of any kind.
Lower intensity light won’t have the same effect as high power on chronic pain, because of the strength and depth of the light. There are still those that appreciate the benefits on some conditions. The alternative is the high-intensity light therapy with the Class IV laser. Many see this as preferable for two reasons.
First of all, the deeper, stronger laser light can target deep-rooted cells and issues more effectively. This gets to the root of deep-seated issues for a better result. Secondly, there are also much more scientifically-valid studies attributed to this higher intensity solution. The downside here is an increased risk factor, something we will discuss further later.
What types of pain issues could we treat with this laser therapy approach?
Most of the studies and sessions with these high and low-level intensity beams tend to revolve around major pain issues in joints and the back. The idea is that these long-term issues of back pain, arthritis and osteoporosis are not curable here, but they can see some relief with this solution. There are two main reasons for this. The first is the effect of the of light on inflammation.
A scientific study on pain relief in mice showed that it was possible to use this red light therapy to aid inflammation. Reductions in inflammation around muscles and joints can have a significant effect on overall pain relief. The other reason is the impact on the mitochondria within the cells of the muscles and tissues. Mitochondria are essential parts of cell health. They produce protein and collagen that help to repair and maintain the cells. Increased stimulation of mitochondria means healthier cells and less likelihood of pain.
Studies show a strong link between this infra-red light source of light therapy and mitochondrial function. These studies have occurred with both the high intensity and low-intensity light, with impressive results on increased function and reduced pain. As suspected, the results were significantly better with the high-intensity light.
Does this all mean that there is a high probability of success with this option?
The studies on cell responses and pain relief with laser therapies and red light are encouraging. There are clear findings that show that the right light on the right wavelength can help to rejuvenate the cells and ease inflammation and pain. This means that it does have great potential as an alternative pain relief therapy. However, many would look at this as a complementary approach to use alongside other solutions. Doctors will not want to rip up the pain medication prescriptions. They may be willing to lower a dose if patients use these light treatments and regular exercise as part of a wider solution to the issue.
Are there any potential risks or side effects to be aware of?
This is highly appealing to patients because of the non-invasive approach. There is no surgical procedure or invasive method to target the areas within the joint and muscles. There is no lasting damage from scars or incisions. There isn’t any need for any injections of anesthetic either. All clinicians have to do is shine the laser at the area for the appropriate time, and there should be no ill-effect. Many sessions last no longer than thirty minutes, but it could depend on the issue and practitioner. Users can get up afterward and go about their day.
This means that there are few warnings about side effects or risks with this approach. There are warnings not to use the light on skin treated with lotions or other creams, but little more. The bigger risk is the use of the light near the eyes of the patient, but this shouldn’t be a problem in professional environments. All patients and operators should wear goggles at all times to be sure of safety. As we mentioned above, the biggest risks come from that stronger, high-intensity laser. The only major drawback here lies in the accessibility of the treatment. Are there options for this solution in your local area and, if so, how much will it cost?
The cost of these sorts of alternative therapies is always a big concern for any patient dealing with long-term issues.
The expenses of these treatments could vary based on the practice and location. However, ongoing needs for sessions due to chronic pain mean that they could start to add up. This could be a problem for those on low income or struggle with health care costs. The additional problem here is that this new, alternative solution isn’t guaranteed to appear on your health insurance coverage.
Many providers prefer traditional solutions that have more scientific validation behind them. Some may decide to cover you for a certain amount of treatments, or a basic plan. This could be an issue for ongoing problems. The solution here may be to try and obtain a professional prescription and receipt for the treatment for clarification. It will also help to talk through payment plans and options with both the insurance provider and clinician.
Can we do this at home?
The issues of cost and the inconvenience of an office treatment lead to some questions about the potential for at-home laser light therapy solutions. At the moment laser therapy is clinic-only due to the nature of the procedure. There is the likelihood of at-home devices shortly. We see new salon-quality devices in health and beauty products all the time.
There is no doubt that this could work pretty well with the right safety precautions and approach. The light would have to be a safe strength, and goggles provided, with a safety shut-off on the timer. This may limit efficiency for major pain issues but could provide some relief in the right areas.
In fact, there is already support for portable devices for use at home. Studies into the potential of laser light treatment and red spectrum light worked with portable infrared therapy packs. Researchers strapped the packs to the back of the waist of the patient. The results showed some effectiveness in the reduction of chronic lower back pain. Therefore, there is hope for a more convenient version of this option for commercial, everyday use.
There is a receptiveness to alternative therapies for pain relief in the home.
Many people suffer from pain and chronic illness on a daily basis that chooses to turn to saunas as a means of treatment. This is a complementary option to other treatments that are easily managed alone, in the comfort of the home. Some of the best far infra-red heated saunas also use mood lighting, or chromotherapy, to help to increase well-being. This is just another example of how different lights, on different wavelengths can offer healthcare benefits.
Even so, we also have to remember the difference here between red light, infrared tech, and deep red light penetration. There are health benefits to basic red light, but not on this level. Chromotherapy devices and other handheld tools for skin care and wound healing are helpful. These are all issues on a surface or local level. The light can stimulate the cells in the surface layer to improve pigmentation and mitochondrial production, but it goes no deeper. Only these high-intensity laser light therapy devices can work with pain treatment.
There are some clear pros and cons to this approach – but the pros are encouraging for those inconsistent pain.
There is no doubt that anyone dealing with chronic pain issues, such as those highlighted above, can benefit from the high-intensity solution. There is potential with the low-intensity wavelengths, but not to the same level. These high-intensity beams go deep into the cells in the muscles to improve pain relief, reduce inflammation and aid the general health of the cells. Regular use could prove to be highly advantageous for all those dealing with serious complaints.
The problem comes in availability, accessibility, and cost. The salon-only approach with trained clinicians means a professional experience at a high price. It can also be difficult for some patients with disabilities to attend the sessions.
Is this laser therapy pain treatment right for you?
In the end, you have to weigh up the potential gains from this type of pain relief treatment against the potential issues. Would you like a home light system or see a professional in an office setting and use a medical laser therapy? This is for those that can afford the sessions – either personally or through health insurance coverage – and schedule the regular meetings with ease. Laser therapy is a new option for pain sufferers to try that need something beyond painkiller prescriptions. So for those that want a non-invasive solution for back and joint pain, this may work.