Low-Level Laser Therapy: Healing Benefits and Risks
Do you wear long sleeves, sunscreen, and sunglasses to protect yourself from the sun? Despite the highly publicized hazards of sunlight exposure, using sunlight as a healing therapy dates back to ancient civilizations in Egypt, Greece, and Rome, when individuals would sunbathe to heal certain conditions.
Today, the sun is not the only source for healing light. Targeted light therapies, such as low-level laser therapy (LLLT), actually amplify the healing potential of light—without the risk of sunburn or skin cancer—to treat a variety of conditions.
Low-Level Laser Therapy Overview
The lasers used in LLLT are typically small (often handheld) units, and unlike surgical and aesthetic lasers, do not heat the targeted tissue. Instead, LLLT emits low levels of light that are absorbed by your mitochondria (the energy-producing organelles in many of your cells), which then can increase cellular energy production and ultimately help heal surrounding tissue. This process is comparable to plant photosynthesis, during which sunlight is absorbed by plants and converted to energy for the plants to grow.
Healing Benefits of LLLT
Low-level laser therapy may sometimes provide an effective alternative to surgery or medications—without accompanying side effects. It can help regenerate tissue, reduce inflammation, decrease pain, and increase immunity, and research has shown its efficacy in treating many conditions, including:
- Plantar fasciitis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Temporomandibular joint disorder
- Exercise-induced muscle fatigue and injury prevention
- Skin conditions
- Traumatic brain injury
Risks and Disadvantages
There are no known side effects of LLLT when used properly. User guidelines include:
- Never receive LLLT over your thyroid—LLLT can compromise thyroid function.
- Wear protective eyeglasses during LLLT—looking directly at the light can damage your retinas.
- Do not receive LLLT if you are pregnant—the laser’s effects on a fetus are unknown.
- Do not laser potentially cancerous lesions—LLLT can stimulate proliferation of existing cancer cells.
It typically takes a series of LLLT sessions to produce results. Unfortunately, many insurance providers do not cover LLLT at this time.
How to Find Low-Level Laser Therapy
Many massage therapists, acupuncturists, chiropractors, physical therapists, and other health care professionals use LLLT in their healing practices, and it may be easiest to find them in your area by asking your physician for a referral or searching online. The World Association for Laser Therapy sponsors Find a Laser Therapist to help you find a laser therapist in your area; however, know that the current therapist list is short.
Many companies now manufacture and sell low-level lasers to the general public; however, quality lasers can be quite pricey, ranging up to $25,000 or more, and there are many complex options to choose from. To provide an alternative to purchasing a laser for home use, some therapists rent their lasers to clients.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center’s Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
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