The acronym "laser" stands for "light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation." Chiropractors have been using non-thermal laser therapy, or cold laser therapy, for a number of years with good results. While surgical lasers are designed to heat and cut tissue, non-thermal lasers use light waves rather than heat to treat painful conditions.
There are pros and cons to cold laser therapy, and special considerations are in order when using this form of treatment.
Non-thermal Lasers Are a Good Alternative Treatment for Certain Patients
There are many patents who experience debilitating pain from tissue degeneration or injury, but who don't wish to take opiates or undergo surgery. Cold laser therapy is a good alternative for these patients.
The treatment relies on red and near-infrared monochromatic light waves that penetrate the skin and stimulate the body's natural healing mechanisms. In the case of inflammation, the laser's energy causes vasodilation, which allows veins and lymph nodes to enlarge, meaning increased blood flow and lymphatic drainage.
Shoulder pain is one condition that non-thermal lasers can relieve, depending on the cause of the injury. While the patient may have to have a series of successive treatments to achieve optimum results, this is far less disruptive than surgery. Non-thermal laser therapy also has no impact on a patent's ability to drive or operate machinery, as many painkillers do.
Cold Laser Therapy Isn't for Everyone
There are some injuries that will be too severe for this form of treatment. If cold laser therapy doesn't seem to be promoting healing after a few sessions, more advanced treatments must be considered.
It is also not indicated for patients who are pregnant. Although the FDA has found no negative side effects of non-thermal laser therapy, the process does involve penetrating deep tissue and should be avoided when treating expectant mothers. Patients who have cancer, or who have thyroid conditions, are also not good candidates for this therapy.
Patients may require up to 30 treatments to obtain full relief, and insurance does not always cover non-thermal therapies.
There Are Several Options When Choosing Non-thermal Laser Devices
Research and development in the field of non-thermal lasers means practitioners today may select from a variety of available devices. Chiropractors have their choice of units that will work best for their specific requirements.
Some units offer a modulating or pulsing feature, sending short bursts of energy into affected tissue. While the reasons aren't entirely understood, pulsing has been shown to improve treatment outcomes in some patients.
There are devices which are stationary, allowing the chiropractor to have hands free during treatment sessions. Or they can choose hand-held lasers that are portable, making them useful when a practice has several treatment rooms, or for chiropractors who make house calls. These units are also ideal for pinpointing trouble spots that may be hard to reach.
Chiropractors should always check to be sure the lasers they want to purchase are approved by the FDA.