"Frickin Laser Beams!" What Therapeutic Laser Therapy can do for patients and how they work.

Written by Jennifer Rouse. DVM CCRP Aug 30 • 2 minute read

What is Veterinary Laser Therapy?

You've maybe heard all the terms: Cold laser, Therapeutic Laser, LLLT (low level laser therapy) but still have no idea what it is, why it's used and if it really helps. Well, today's blog post is all about Laser!

Simply put, this therapy uses light beams to stimulate wound healing, to treat pain and manage inflammation. It can be used either with or in place of medical therapy to manage conditions. 

“Laser” ( an acronym for "light amplification of stimulated emission of radiation") refers to a device that emits focused, penetrating light beams in three forms:

  • Monochromatic: Light that is a single wavelength (differing from natural light that is composed of many wavelengths)
  • Coherent: Photons (tiny particles of light or electromagnetic radiation) that travel in the same phase and direction
  • Collimated: Photons that travel in a single straight beam

Coherence and collimation give lasers penetrating power and focuses their effects on a single treatment area so that nearby tissues are unaffected. 

Lasers are classified by their energy output and wavelength, with four classes currently recognized:

  • Class 1- barcode scanners like in grocery stores which are safely used every day
  • Class 2laser pointers and some therapeutic lasers, produce a beam in the visible spectrum (400–700 nanometers)
  • Class 3- include the most commonly used therapeutic lasers
  • Class 4- can cause thermal injury to tissues and higher power lasers in this category include surgical lasers that cut and cauterize tissue during procedures. 

How does laser therapy work?

Therapeutic lasers use light waves of a specific wavelength to cause photobiomodulation. This term means that light alters cell and tissue physiology. Its absorption stimulates electrons and activates cells to promote growth, proliferation, migration and repair. It stimulates the mitochondria, or power station, of the cell to increase cell metabolism. 

The type and depth of tissue that responds to laser therapy depends upon the wavelength of light that is delivered. Most therapeutic lasers use red or near-infrared light, which has a wavelength of 600–1070 nanometers, although units with green, blue, and violet light, which have lower wavelengths, are becoming more popular. Higher wavelengths penetrate deeper to muscle and bone, where as lower wavelengths are absorbed by superficial tissue like skin. 

Laser therapy helps tissue repair by causing:

  • Endorphin release
  • Vasodilation, which increases blood flow to bring in oxygen and cells involved in the healing process
  • Muscle relaxation
  • Decreased inflammation
  • Faster healing and repair

Who can benefit from laser therapy?

Laser therapy is indicated for many veterinary applications including management of:

  • Chronic arthritis
  • Surgical incisions
  • Tendon and ligament injuries
  • Traumatic injuries

Laser therapy is particularly useful for patients with limited treatment options such as:

  • Pets with liver disease who cannot take medications
  • Cats, for whom only a few pain-control medications are approved
  • Exotic pets for whom medication administration is difficult or impossible
  • Older pets with diminished organ function

Is laser therapy safe?

Laser therapy is safe when used appropriately. It is contraindicated for use in cancer patients and a small number of other cases. Thermal injury is possible with the class 4 units, so its administration by trained personnel is essential. Retinal damage can occur with class 4 lasers, while corneal injury can occur from class 3, so appropriate precautions are necessary to avoid injury to staff, owners and the patient while performing treatments. 

Wondering if laser therapy can help your pet's condition? Please contact our office for a consult to determine if laser can help!

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