Low Level Laser Therapy a Vital Treatment? Or an Unnecessary Expense?

What is Low Level Laser Therapy
Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT), also known as cold laser therapy, photobiomodulation, and laser bio-stimulation is a therapeutic modality which is slowly making its debut in athletic training rooms, sports medicine clinics, and physical therapy clinics around the U.S. These units use red and near infrared light which is converted to chemical energy and applied to the body to relieve pain and stimulate healing of common wounds and injuries.

How Does It Work?
The applicator applies between 1-500 milliwatts of energy in the form of non-thermal photons of light to tissues. Supposedly, this light penetrates the skin up to one inch and results in physiologic effects such as: increased cell metabolism, increased circulation, vasodilation, decreased inflammatory effects, stimulation of nerve function, and analgesic effects. Treatment times are under a minute and a half and are applied directly to the skin.

What Types of Injuries Can Laser Therapy be Used for?
This type of treatment is indicated for conditions such as tendonitis, arthritis, fibromyalgia, post surgical pain, swelling, ulcers, TMJ, and acute and chronic pain to name a few.

Are There Side Effects?
This type of treatment is thought to produce similar effects of NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) except without the possible negative side effects to the gastro-intestinal system. The only known possible negative side effect is exposure to light to the eyes. This is prevented by usage of the safety-filter spectacles by the therapist and the patient. These Units were approved by the FDA in 2002 for carpal tunnel syndrome, iliotibial band syndrome and other musculoskeletal disorders.

Who should NOT Receive This Treatment?
Low Level Laser Therapy is not safe for use by those with a pacemaker, those who are pregnant; those who suffer from epilepsy, children, those who are receiving radiation, those suffering from cancer, also the area over the thyroid gland should not be treated.

How Much Does It Cost?
Low Level Laser Therapy units range in price from $80 dollars to $4, 000 dollars depending on quality of the machine, the diameter of the applicator, and whether the unit also contains electrical stimulation and ultrasound. Treatment costs to patients can be between $35 and $115 and some insurance companies will not cover them.

Is It Worth The Cost?
Given the fact that there is not sufficient evidence in regards to the effectiveness of low level laser therapy, is it really worth the high cost of the unit to the practitioner, or of the treatment to the patient? For me personally, I’ll stick with the dependable and economical treatment of an ice bag and ibuprofen which I know together work to decrease cell metabolism, pain, and inflammation.