Low Level Laser & Shock Wave Therapy For Orthopedic & Neurological Pain Conditions
Dishir Physio Care & Laser Center
What is low level laser therapy?
|Arthritis (Any Joint)
||Degenerative Spine Disease
|Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorders
||Non-Healing Fracture With Functional Restoration
||Swelling (oedema and haematoma resorption
|Postoperative wound healing
|Acupuncture point activation
||Soft tissue injuries
||Fractures, overstrain injuries
|Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
||Peripheral nerve regeneration after injury
Low-level laser therapy is a regulative medical treatment used in specialties such as Dermatology, Traumatology, Sports Medicine, Orthopedics, Dental Medicine, Urology, Gynecology, General Orthopedics, Dental Medical, Chiropractic, Veterinary Medicine, Physical Therapy, Natural Medicine, etc. Over 2000 studies have established that such laser therapy is both effective and safe.
People only think of lasers as cutting lasers. In order to cut with lasers, it is necessary to increase the power density (PD) to between 300 and 10,000 Watts per sq cm. Lasers do not even begin to feel warm unless the PD is 5 Watts per sq cm. In low-level laser therapy, the so-called cold laser therapy, the PD can be as low as 1 to 3 Milliwatts per sq cm.
Low level lasers are used widely nowadays, in applications such as bar code checkout, laser printers, compact disc players and medical therapy.
Laser therapy devices (using about 500 mW power output) do not have a thermal effect. This means that they provoke no immediate visible skin reactions or sensations during therapy. Low-level laser therapy is a soft therapy, without side effects. As against this, the surgical applications of laser have a different purpose and they therefore use much higher levels of power.
What does laser therapy do?
One of the most important functions of low level laser therapy is to re-polarize sick and injured cellular membranes. This allows essential nutrients to transfer from the blood into the cell. Research has shown that low level laser therapy can increase cellular ATP (fuel) by as much as 150 %. Photobioactivation is a tern applied to a light stimulus that initiates or accelerates a physiological response. Other stimuli used in medicine are, for example, temperature, ultrasound, electrical power, electromagnetic fields, etc.
Laser therapy was discovered in the 1960s. Today, thousands of clinical evaluations and over 100 double blind studies confirm its efficiency in:
- Wound healing (formation of granulation tissue, epithelization, improved trophic condition)
- Anti-inflammatory effect (enhancement of immune response)
- Improvement of regenerative processes
Laser therapy is being used as a successful treatment option for countless pain, inflammation, dental, burn and illness conditions all over the world. Lasers have been used as therapeutic energy to bring about favourable biological effects in people, plants and animals. Unlike many therapies and drugs that just treat symptoms, laser therapy actually promotes and enhances healing. Laser therapy is the future of medicine and it is a modality that is rapidly growing in popularity.
In USA, the FDA cleared multiple laser and LED devices for the treatment of a variety of medical conditions including carpal tunnel syndrome, cervical neck pain, low back pain, generalized muscle pain and for the acceleration of wound healing. Technical light therapy is being used by governmental agencies such as NASA for treating medical conditions in space applications. The US Olympic training facilities have released statements of endorsement of laser therapy for athletes. The growing acceptance of laser therapy in mainstream medicine is an indication of the medical efficacy of this treatment modality. It is not only a viable option, but often a superior treatment option.
The effects of laser therapy
Are low level lasers safe?
- Laser therapy in the correct frequency appears to be antiviral, anti-fungal, and anti-herpetic.
- Reduces inflammation by suppressing inflammatory enzymes that create swelling, redness, pain and heat.
- Enhances the release of anti-inflammatory enzymes.
- Stimulates nerve regeneration, muscle relaxation and atonicity (lack of muscle tone)
- Improves immune system response.
- The cells in the human body need electrons to communicate with each other. Laser light delivers the required electrons directly to the cells and enhances their ability to produce ATP (energy)
- Laser therapy causes the release of healing enzymes and the production of endorphins, which are natural pain killers.
- Enhances lymphatic drainage, which increases circulation and speeds healing.
- Releases tight muscles (both smooth and striated) that create chronic pain, join problems, and decreased mobility.
- Speeds bone repair by stimulating fibroblastic and osteoblastic proliferation.
- Enhanced fibroblast formation and collagen synthesis with improved tissue strength values
- Neovascularisation of lymphatic and blood vessels as well as vasodilatation, improved microcirculation and lymphatic drainage (resorption of oedema).
- Larger quantity of granulation tissue and accelerated epithelisation.
- Increased activity of osteoblasts promotes the formation of callus.
- Regulation of muscle tissue including myocardium.
- Enhancement of peripheral nerve re-growth.
- Prevention of central nerve degeneration and regeneration of peripheral axons after injury.
- Measurable changes in the potential of nerve cell membranes lead to its hyperpolarization as a good analgesic mechanism.
- Improved release reaction of S-endorphines.
- Changes in transmitter concentration at the synapsis.
- Accumulation of 5-OH-indoleacetate (serotonin metabolite)
- Relaxation of muscles induced by the neuromuscular unit (ATP increase).
- Activation of proliferation of immune cells including macrophages.
- Immune suppressive effect by reduced antigen perception of the T-lymphocytes (increased acceptance of a transplant).
Yes, when low level lasers are used correctly, they are very safe. Low Level Laser Therapy has been proven completely safe in over 2000 worldwide studies. The most important safety regulation is to avoid pointing a laser at the eye. Protective goggles are worn by the patent and the doctor. Low level laser therapy is avoided in the following situations: cancer; pregnancy; long-term history of steroid usage; epilepsy; cardio-vascular compromised patients; patients with implanted pace-makers.
There is no pain with laser treatment, and there are no known side effects. If pain increases marginally due to the treatment, it is an indication of tissue reactivity and this precedes the improvement. This is a sign that the laser therapy has increased the circulation and caused the release of toxins.
Patients need 10 to 12 sittings spread over 2 to 3 months. Each sitting is usually for only 2 to 3 minutes. The beneficial effects can begin to get noticed within 3 months.
Patients with acute conditions will frequently see beneficial effects almost immediately. Patients with chronic conditions may find that a slightly longer treatment regime is required before the effects begin to be obvious.
According to studies, the success rate is almost 80%, and the chances of the problem recurring are remote.
Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy (ESWT)
Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy (ESWT) is a new technology using shockwaves to treat chronic, painful conditions of the musculoskeletal system. A shockwave is an intense, but very short energy wave traveling faster than the speed of sound. The word "Extra-corporeal" means "outside the body" and refers to the fact that the shockwaves are generated outside the body.
What is the origin of ESWT?
The basic science behind ESWT is analogous to lithotripsy, the technology that uses acoustic shockwaves to break up kidney stones without surgery. The technique of using shockwaves to break up kidney stones has been around for a nearly a quarter century now, and in the process of treating thousands and thousands of patients, it was found that many people undergoing the procedure had other unrelated aches and pains disappear. It was at this point that scientists began to consider that shockwaves may have an effect to heal other sorts of tissues.
Specialized machines were then developed specifically with the idea of using these shockwaves on other parts of the body, and this is the origin of ESWT.
The type of shockwave therapy we use, then, is specialized to specifically help treat musculoskeletal conditions.
What conditions can you treat with ESWT?
Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy can be used to treat a wide variety of musculoskeletal conditions, particularly those involving where major connective tissues attach to bone.
Complaints involving attachment points for tendons and ligaments in major joints like the shoulder (such as the rotator cuff), elbow (epicondylitis or tennis elbow), hip, and knee (tendinitis or "jumper's knee) are common sites for ESWT.
One of the areas most frequently treated with ESWT, however, is the foot. This is our specialty.Some conditions in the foot that have been treated with ESWT include:
Plantar Fasciitis or Fasciosis (Strained Arch)
Achilles Tendinitis or Tendinosis
Calcific Tendinitis or Tendinosis
Connective Tissue Pain and degeneration
Muscle Pain and Injuries
And as ESWT encourages bone healing, it has been used to help treat:
Avascular Necrosis (A dead portion of bone)
Slow-healing bone (Delayed unions)
Non-healing bone (Non-unions)
There are also urological conditions that respond to ESWT, such as Peyronie's Disease.
Research presented at the 2005 International Conference on ESWT in Vienna and the 2006 International Conference in Rio de Janeiro demonstrated that ESWT is also being studied for use for a wide variety of other conditions as disparate as skin ulcers and other chronic dermatological lesions, infections, angina, arthritis, reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), and certain neurological conditions.
When is ESWT considered as a treatment for these sorts of conditions?
Shock Wave Therapy is generally considered when the following criteria are met:
When patient has a diagnosis that is considered to be responsive to ESWT.
When simpler and less expensive treatment alternatives have failed or aren't appropriate for some reason.
When surgery or other more invasive treatments are alternatives.
When the patient fully understands the procedure.
When there are no known contraindications to the procedure.
When can't you use ESWT?
ESWT is not typically used in the presence of bone tumours, certain metabolic bone conditions, and certain nerve or circulation disorders. ESWT isn't typically used in pregnant patients and locations of an open growth plate, (where the bone is still growing). It's not currently used in areas where an infection is present, (though there is some early research suggesting ESWT may actually help with infection). It also shouldn't be used in conditions or locations where gas or air is present in the body, (rare in the locations where ESWT is typically used)--or for other conditions as determined by your doctor.
Assuming you have an injury appropriate to extra-corporeal shockwave technology treatment, most recent independent studies suggest somewhere between a 65% and a 95% "success" range, with values around 80% being the most commonly cited number. And it's important to note that most of these studies have success rates as determined by the patient, himself, in terms of pain and function.
How fast does ESWT work?
We find that many patients get an initial degree of improvement almost immediately following treatment. This effect is usually (but not always) temporary, and is associated with an anesthesia effect from the hyperstimulation of the tissue from the ESWT.
It takes several days for injuries to begin to heal, and many patients see an improvement before the end of the second week. Depending upon your diagnosis, the healing process may take several weeks or even months to be completed, but pain relief often precedes the completion of the healing process.
How safe is ESWT?
The basic technology involved with extracorporeal shockwave technology has been used for decades now on quite literally millions of people. The technology has been used most extensively in Europe, particularly the German-speaking countries, where this technology originates. In all its use, ESWT of the musculoskeletal system has been found to have virtually no serious side-effects. In fact, even mild side effects like tingling, aching, redness, or bruising are relatively rare, modest and short-lived.
Further, effects like these appear to be more common with higher energy treatments, particularly those from earlier generations of ESWT technology than that which we use. We'll discuss more about the different ESWT technologies below.
How does ESWT work?
Simply put, extracorporeal shockwaves stimulate certain components within the body so the body is able to heal. And ESWT is able to accomplish this even in chronic cases, when the body has demonstrated a previous unwillingness or inability to do so by itself.
In addition to stimulating the healing process, ESWT seems to have a direct effect on nerves, diminishing pain.
Many traditional therapies--such as anti-inflammatory medications, steroid injections, physiotherapy, massage, acupuncture, and so forth--can assist the body during the early, acute phase of an injury. However, they are much less effective in assisting the body to heal when an injury becomes chronic. As an example, many patients can relate to a history where a steroid injection (like cortisone) seemed to be effective in resolving pain early in their healing process, but subsequent injections were much less effective. This isn't really surprising when you realize that a chronic-state, degenerative injury isn't likely to respond well to a medication designed to affect an acute-phase, inflammatory condition.
What makes ESWT unique is that it is one of the very few technologies in any field of medicine that seems to work best when an injury reaches the chronic, non-healing state. ESWT appears to be able to jump start the healing process in chronic, non-healing injuries and move them back into the acute phase of healing.
First, this shockwave exerts a mechanical pressure and tension force on the afflicted tissue. This has been shown to create an increase in cell membrane permeability, thereby increasing microscopic circulation (right) to the tissues and the metabolism within the treated tissues, both of which promote healing and subsequent dissolution of pathological calcific deposits.
Second, the ESWT shock waves pressure front creates behind it what are known as "cavitation bubbles". An example of a single cavitation bubble is pictured to the right.
Cavitation bubbles are simply small empty cavities created behind an energy front. They tend to expand to a maximum size, then collapse, much like a bubble popping.
As these bubbles burst, a resultant force is created. In the human body, this force is strong enough to help break down pathological deposits of calcification in soft tissues.
Third, as cavitation bubbles collapse, they create smaller, secondary energy waves known as microjets. You can see how a microjet forms in the diagram to the right, and you can see it pictured in the center of the cavitation bubble in the photograph immediately above.
These microjets also create a lot of force that also breaks down pathological deposits of calcification in the soft tissues through direct, mechanical means.
In the application of an ESWT treatment in a medical setting, however, it's not just one cavitation bubble or just a few cavitation bubbles being produced, but hundreds and thousands.
To the right you can see what hundreds of cavitation bubbles formed from a single shockwave looks like.
Multiply this by several thousand shockwaves being administered to an injured tissue through a course of ESWT treatment and you can imagine the forces that can be mustered to break down deposits of calcification that are found in joints, soft tissues and spurs.
Beyond breaking down pathological calcification deposits, ESWT has been shown to stimulate cells in the body known as osteoblasts. These bone cells, (pictured to the right), are responsible for bone healing and new bone production, so stimulating them obviously enhances the healing process of bone.
ESWT shockwaves have also been shown to stimulate fibroblasts, (pictured to the right). Fibroblasts are the cells responsible for the healing of connective tissues such as tendon, ligaments, and fasica.
ESWT also diminishes pain. It does so in two ways. First, as mentioned above, ESWT initially diminishes pain through what is known as hyperstimulation anesthesia. This is where the nerves sending signals of pain to the brain are stimulated so much that their activity diminishes, thereby decreasing or eliminating pain. This effect is usually, (but not always), short lived.
ESWT is also believed to diminish pain over longer periods of time through the stimulation of what is known as the "gate-control" mechanism, where nerves can be stimulated to "close the gate" to pain impulses sent to the brain. It is sometimes thought of as activating a sort of "reset" button that recalibrates pain perception.
Interestingly, and in apparent support of this theory, it was demonstrated by research presented at the 2005 conference in Vienna that using anesthesia with ESWT alters the sensor input - motor output balance of nerve fibres, inhibiting the pain-killing effect of ESWT.
In other words, ESWT appears to be most helpful for patients who are not anesthetized. (This explains why some early studies where anesthesia was used before the administration of extracorporeal shockwave therapy did not get results as good as what is found in patients where no anesthesia is used.)
As the piezoelectric version of shockwave we use does not require anesthesia, this serves as one explanation as to why piezoelectric shockwave works so well.
While ESWT is used on a wide variety of body tissues and medical conditions (see "What conditions can you treat with ESWT?" section above), the effects of shockwaves are best documented in areas of changes in tissue density, such as where tendon attaches to bone (enthesiopathies) and where bone attaches to ligaments (desmopathies). For this reason, it is very effective for painful connective tissue pain in such locations as the foot, knee, hip, elbow, and shoulder.
Dr. Sandeep Saluja
B.P.T. (Bangalore), M.I.A.P.
Ex Consultant at Rajasthan Hospital, Ahmedabad
Dr. Sandeep Saluja is Gujarat's first trained and Certified Laser Therapist, certified by Dr. Hans Jorg GroBer, the renowned German laser therapist.
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