The laser has been used successfully in physical medicine and rehabilitation for more than 30 years in various parts of the world and has started to gain popularity in the United States since the FDA authorized its use for various medical indications. Laser treatment involves introducing the energy of light into damaged or injured tissues to promote healing by stimulating ATP production and lymphocyte activity, among other physiological responses.
In the United States, the FDA has thoroughly evaluated and subsequently licensed several laser devices for the treatment of neck and shoulder pain and carpal tunnel syndrome. The FDA has also cleared infrared light, which is light energy with wavelengths longer than visible light, to do the following:
- increase local blood circulation
- relieve minor muscle or joint aches, pain, and / or stiffness
- relaxation of muscles
- relieve muscle spasms
- relieve pain and stiffness associated with arthritis
Although laser therapy has been used safely and effectively throughout the world in animal research since the 1960s and safely in humans since the 1970s, there are precautions regarding laser use and cases specific where the laser should not be used.
Only licensed and trained medical professionals should use the laser for medical treatment. Since the human eye cannot detect the beam of an infrared laser, protective goggles designed for the wavelength being used should be worn to prevent accidental exposure. Infrared light does not usually cause the eye to blink to protect itself. Another precaution is related to the use of lasers on the bone growth plates. Although very few, if any, studies have concluded that laser use has any negative effect on growth plates, it is probably wise to avoid using a laser directly on them. Highly reflective jewelry should be removed from the area to be treated, and the treatment should not be performed on or near reflective surfaces. The laser should only be applied to the area to be treated and should not be used in areas where sensitivity has been compromised, as the patient may not be able to feel discomfort if the laser is too intense.
The laser should not be used to irradiate the eyes, on cancerous tumors, within 4 to 6 months of radiotherapy, on bleeding, on or near the thyroid or endocrine glands, on a fetus or uterus during pregnancy, in cases in which the patient has sensitivity. to light, if the patient is using photosensitive medication or with patients who have vascular disease.
Lasers have been shown to be effective in treating a number of conditions and may be effective in treating others as laser use increases. However, when using lasers, care must be taken and attention must be paid to the conditions in which the laser can be harmful to avoid negative effects.
Written by Robert T Blair