By Dr. Mercola
Laser therapy is still a fairly unknown 21st century treatment modality that can have profound benefits for pain management and tissue healing. Dr. Phil Harrington was a high school physics teacher and was trained at Palmer College of Chiropractic as a chiropractic physician.
He ran a chiropractic office in a small town in Iowa for 10 years prior to becoming the first employee of K-Laser USA1 —a company that manufactures high-grade medical laser equipment.
There are a number of companies that manufacture lasers for tissue healing but K-Laser is currently the leading manufacturer of these types of lasers.
What You Need to Know About Lasers
Lasers are classified according to their power output:
- Class 3a—maximum of 5 milliwatts of power (standard laser pointer)
- Class 3b—maximum of 500 milliwatts/0.5 watts
- Class 4—anything over 500 milliwatts/0.5 watts
The most significant issue with the clinical use of lasers is the depth of penetration. Some practitioners make the mistake of using low-power Class 3 lasers, which basically amounts to a standard laser pointer.
Most class 3a lasers only use a red wavelength – 635 nanometers in the visible red. When you look at the depth of penetration with laser, red laser light only penetrates about one to two millimeters (far less than 1/8 inch) into the human body.
Granted, red laser is highly useful for treating superficial wounds, cuts, abrasions, and perhaps even for the treatment of vitiligo, but they will not penetrate far enough for deep seated pain reduction. However, infrared lasers (around 800 nanometers) penetrate far deeper and able to go several centimeters, into your body which will reach most tissue injuries.
Power is also another crucial factor when it comes to laser therapy. Power is measured in watts, and you can think of it as the brightness of the light. A higher-powered laser is a brighter light, and it can produce more energy per unit of time. When it comes to doing laser therapy treatment, a higher-powered laser (Class 4) provides two benefits:
- A therapeutic dose of laser light can be applied to a much larger volume of tissue
- By shining that brighter light at the surface, photons of light are able to penetrate deeper into the tissues, which allows you to treat deep-seated pain conditions
Health Benefits of K-Laser Class 4 Laser Therapy
Basically, three things happen during K-Laser treatment. First, infrared laser therapy treatment helps reduce pain, reduce inflammation, and enhance tissue healing—both in hard and soft tissues, including muscles, ligaments, or even bones.
“When we look at the basic mechanism of how it works, we are enhancing the microcirculation. We are getting more red blood cells flowing to the area,” Dr. Harrington explains.
"But it’s not just the arterial blood supply to the area; we are enhancing the venous and the lymphatic return from the area. We’re also increasing oxygenation of those tissues. We are stimulating the hemoglobin molecule to dump off oxygen at the treatment site, so we are increasing the oxygenation of those tissues.”
Finally, the treatment stimulates the cytochrome oxidase enzyme in the cells’ mitochondria. This is really one of the key discoveries in the whole science of laser therapy. Specifically, injured cells are targeted because damaged cells are more readily accepting of photons of light, whereas healthy cells don’t need this extra energy.
“By stimulating the cytochrome oxidase enzyme, we are utilizing that oxygen in the respiratory chain inside of the mitochondria, producing more ATP for that cell. So regardless of what kind of cell it is, it’s going to function at a higher level. Now, we are not turbocharging. We’re not making your body do anything that it could not normally do. We’re just facilitating the process. We are helping those cells produce the energy that they normally would, so they can function as they normally should,” he explains.
Now, lasers are also used in other areas of medicine, specifically in surgical interventions where they’re used for cutting, removing tattoos, and a lot of other dermatological applications. But the class 4 K-Laser does not do that. The K-Laser can produce up to 15 watts, and the laser light is allowed to diffuse to a spot size about that of a quarter, whereas ablative lasers, the ones used for surgical cutting, are closer to 100 watts, and the laser light is focused to a tiny spot size.
“The interaction that we’re getting in the body with the K-Laser is called a photochemical reaction,” Dr. Harrington explains. “By shining that light on a tissue, we are getting that ATP energy produced, whereas your surgical lasers, hair removal lasers, or tattoo removal lasers, are designed to cut or ablate the tissues. They have a very, very high-powered density, a very high concentration on that laser.”
The infrared wavelengths used in the K-Laser allow for targeting specific areas of the body. The K-Laser is unique in that it is the only Class 4 therapy laser that utilizes these three infrared wavelengths, allowing for deep penetration into the body to reach areas such as your spine and hip (the K-Laser also has a 100-milliwatt, 660-nanometer visible red which, again, is excellent for superficial wounds):
- 800 nanometers penetrates the deepest, and is at a peak of absorption for the cytochrome oxidase enzyme
- 905 nanometers most efficiently targets the hemoglobin molecule
- 970 nanometers most efficiently stimulates microcirculation in the tissues
Try Infrared Laser Therapy BEFORE You Consider Surgery For Many Acute Injuries
You can have the best diet and exercise program in the world, but as most of us are painfully aware, it doesn’t take much to develop an injury from an accident that you were not responsible for. Many times surgery will be recommended to repair or replace joints. There are certainly many times when surgery is appropriate and needs to be performed and we should be VERY grateful we have access to this tool, but more often than not it is inappropriately recommended because of lack of awareness of other effective options, including the healing power of lasers.
The laser is typically a tiny fraction of the cost of surgery and virtually has no side effects, unlike surgery. Class 4 laser therapy can be effectively combined with a number of other treatment modalities, including various soft tissue mobilization techniques. Ideally, your doctor would do the K-Laser treatment before they do those soft tissue techniques.
“Another technique or modality that it’s used together with [laser therapy] is spinal decompression. When a person has a bulging or a herniated disc, by running the laser on the lower back, we are reducing the inflammation internally; we are reducing the cytokines (the tissue irritants in the body), and we are helping to stimulate the blood flow in the area to help that decompression treatment help to heal up that damaged disc,” Dr. Harrington says. “Another interesting area – this is one that we’re just at the forefront of – is both human and animal practitioners are using the laser together with either the platelet-rich plasma injections or with stem cell therapy. We’re just at the beginning of discovering the benefits of those things together.”
Examples of the types of injuries that this kind of laser therapy can be helpful for include:
- Acute injuries, such as strains, sprains, and shoulder injuries
- Repetitive-use injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome
- Traumatic injuries, such as post-motor vehicle accident with cervical strain/sprain
- Chronic issues such as frozen shoulder and arthritis
To me, at this point in time, it would almost be medical negligence bordering on medical malpractice not to try laser treatment before prescribing drugs or surgery. We know Vioxx killed 60,000 people, and that was just an anti-inflammatory, which doesn’t in any way, shape, or form treat the cause of the problem. It was just a symptomatic Band Aid that killed 60,000 people. Similarly, the effects of surgery are typically irreversible, for better or worse.
“The Class 4 K-Laser treatments are amazing. They are so effective at treating a wide variety of conditions, whether it is soft-tissue injuries, acute injuries, or nerve damage,” Dr. Harrington says. “For example, we have a gentleman from the Twin Cities who was so successful at treating diabetic neuropathy that he has franchised a chain of treatment centers where the only condition they treat is diabetic neuropathy, and the K-Laser is a keystone in their treatment plan. K-Laser treatments virtually have no side effects.
When we talk a little bit about how the laser works, one effect that we’re getting is vasodilation of the tissues and also a lot of release of the tissue irritants in the area. If we’re treating a patient that has a lot of myofascial trigger points, a lot of metabolic waste products, and we give them a K-Laser treatment, a couple of hours afterwards they might be a little bit sore. It’s absolutely not any tissue damage going on; it’s because we’re causing the release of all of those metabolic waste products that were locked up in the muscle... Just [drink] a little bit of extra water to help flush that out.”
FDA Clearance of K-Laser
All therapy lasers are FDA-cleared medical devices, including the K-Laser. Interestingly, the FDA does not recognize the biostimulatory effects of laser therapy. They see it simply as an infrared-heating device. So if you were to look up the FDA clearance for the K-Laser, you’d find it described as an infrared lamp for topical heating for temporary relief of muscle spasms and joint stiffness. Even so, the vast majority of people seeking laser therapy do present pain as a symptom. It’s just that the laser actually has beneficial effects over and beyond what the FDA recognizes.
While there are a couple of over-the-counter lasers available, they are very low in power and will not be able to provide deep-seated pain relief. The K-Laser and other higher-powered lasers are prescription medical devices cleared for sale to and use by trained health professionals only.
“As far as training someone in using the machine, we give them all of the scientific information in what we call online modules, where they watch laser therapy science, physiology, and safety, after which they take a certification exam. We also supply different training materials whether it’s booklets, DVDs, or webinars,” Dr. Harrington says.
The training modules take about three hours to complete. Anyone who buys a K-Laser unit gets onsite training by K-Laser USA, which is typically a four-hour training session, reviewing the proper use of the machine and how to treat different conditions.
Before Drugs and Surgery, Consider Giving Laser Therapy a Try...
I have successfully treated a large number of friends and professional associates with the K-Laser and have been very impressed. For example, the person who helps me with my organic landscaping. I noticed he was walking with a limp and I thought it was a result of a tree we just had planted. It turns out it was related to chronic crippling pain he had in his ankle for over 10 years. He had merely endured this terrible pain for over a decade. I gave him one three minute treatment and it was virtually removed. He had a slight recurrence several weeks later and I gave him another one and he has been pain free for months.
A typical treatment session can take anywhere from five to 20 minutes, dependent on your injury or condition.
“Your shortest treatments could be some of the jaw issues, something fairly superficial, or treating a fairly small area. That would be three to three and a half minutes. And then on the other side of the spectrum, if we are doing either a disc herniation or a diabetic neuropathy, where we’re wanting to treat the lower back and all the way down the leg, that could be 12, 15, to 20 minutes of treatment time,” Dr. Harrington says.
In terms of how many treatments will be required before the actual condition is resolved or the pain relief is really achieved, this can vary widely, depending on your condition. Typically, pain relief will be achieved long before the condition itself is healed, so it’s important to remember that the absence of pain does not equal the presence of health. According to Dr. Harrington, the vast majority of conditions require six to 12 treatments over a two- to four-week period of time. As for cost, the nationwide range varies from $25 to $150 dollars, but most practitioners will charge around $40-65 per treatment.
“When you look at a pain condition that you’ve been suffering from for years, and you can get it resolved with just a few hundred dollars’ worth of K-Laser treatments, that’s well worth it,” Dr. Harrington says.
Humans aren’t the only ones that can benefit from laser therapy. Veterinarians are able to use medical devices as they see fit, and some veterinarians, especially holistic vets like Dr. Karen Becker, swear by laser therapy.
“Yes, it’s going to work for any of the arthritic conditions – hip dysplasia, intervertebral disc disease in dachshunds, for example. Looking at the little dachshund (where the pet owner had brought him in, planning to put him down because his back legs were useless) get a few K-Laser treatments, and the little dog is up and running around again. Some of those stories are really heartwarming,” Dr. Harrington says.
The K-Laser website2 (K-LaserUSA.com) lists trained K-Laser Providers—both human medical and veterinary medical providers. I was so impressed with the healing potential of the K-Laser that I obtained one for my personal use. I realize how fragile our bodies are and how easily they can become injured, and I simply did not want to not have access to this marvelous healing tool. I also thoroughly enjoy helping my friends and family eliminate pain from injuries they encounter.