By Dr. Mercola
Most people will suffer some form of injury or painful condition at some time in their life. Is there a simple, effective way to accelerate healing that doesn't involve drugs or surgery? The short answer is yes, there is.
Dr. Phil Harrington is trained as a chiropractic physician, and for the past eight years he's worked for K-Laser, a company that has developed one of the most powerful and versatile cold lasers available.
At present, I'm passionate about optimizing mitochondrial function for health and disease prevention, and the K-Laser technology can be a helpful adjunct for that as well, especially as it applies to injuries.
One common question is: Can light really have a biological effect on tissue? And the answer to that is solid and resounding yes.
One clue can be found in the plant kingdom. Green growing plants absorb ultraviolet (UV) light and undergo a chemical process called photosynthesis that converts light energy into chemical energy.
There's an organelle in plants called the chloroplast, which is essentially the plant equivalent of our mitochondria. They work on similar biological principles in that they both create intracellular proton gradients, which helps explain how light energy can affect human mitochondria as well.
Laser therapy is also used in veterinary medicine, with great success, and this tells us the benefits are not simply due to the placebo effect.
How Light Affects Tissue Healing
Tissue healing comes about when red and infrared laser light is absorbed by different components in your tissues. When it comes to laser therapy, the effects include:
- Increased microcirculation in the tissues
- Increased tissue oxygenation (meaning, more oxygen is being released from the bloodstream)
- Improved energy production in damaged cells by stimulating enzymes in the mitochondria to utilize oxygen more efficiently
If there's an area of tissue injury, damage, pain, and inflammation, laser therapy through its mechanism of increased circulation, oxygenation, and enzyme activity, is able to facilitate repair and recover more quickly and become stronger than it would be without the laser.
Another benefit is the lack of adverse side effects. It's a very simple therapy and it makes great sense to consider it as a first line of treatment before considering more aggressive surgical or pharmacological intervention.
Three Basic Types of Light Therapy
There are basically three different types of light therapy: sunlight, LEDs, and lasers. The therapeutic use of sunlight goes back hundreds of years, as they realized it could help treat a number of different skin and infectious conditions, such as psoriasis, jaundice, and tuberculosis (TB).
Today, LEDs (light-emitting diodes), and lasers are more commonly used in the therapeutic setting. LEDs produce monochromatic light of a certain wavelength, such as 660 nanometers (nm), which is in the visible red spectrum.
Laser diodes deliver light of a tighter bandwidth, andthe K-Laser device is the only one to incorporate four different wavelengths at the same time, which makes it far more versatile than others.
Another major difference between LEDs and lasers is that the light emitted from LEDs is non-coherent whereas laser light is coherent, meaning the light waves match up with each other in space and time.
"There are a number of ... studies that have been done that looked at the effect of [light] coherency on the tissues. We can summarize it in general to say that if all other parameters are equal, laser wins every time, and it's because of that coherency of the light," Harrington says.
"If you shine the laser on a surface, you get what's called speckle formation. It almost looks like that laser light is crawling.
What is actually happening is that we're getting areas of constructive and destructive interference in between those coherent light waves, which essentially in the body would mean that in some areas it's a little bit warmer; in some areas, a little bit cooler.
One benefit that I think we're getting with laser therapy, specifically in reference to increasing circulation, is that the coherency of the light is responsible more for that increase in circulation that we get."
The coherency of laser light also allows for deeper penetration, which means you can deliver therapeutic dosages of light into deeper-lying tissues. As noted by Harrington:
"It's one thing to get a photon of light deep in the body; it's a much more significant criteria to get enough of them deep in the body so that we are getting the true therapeutic dosage."
About the only drawback is price. Lasers are more expensive, and high-powered lasers like the K-laser can only be purchased by licensed healthcare providers. LED devices, on the other hand, are readily available on Amazon for a reasonable price, and can easily be used at home.
Should You Buy an LED Device for Home Use?
If you're considering purchasing an LED device for the treatment of a soft tissue injury, here are two key considerations to keep in mind:
- LED devices will work well for more superficial tissue injuries and skin conditions, such as elbow tendonitis or psoriasis for example.
The reason for this is because they use non-coherent monochromatic light; typically red or infrared light, the former of which can penetrate just one millimeter into your body
- Deeper pains, such as arthritis in the hip or degenerative disc problems, are less likely to respond to LEDs, as the light cannot penetrate deeply enough. For these conditions, you need to see a practitioner that uses higher-powered laser therapy
Laser Therapy Can Be Useful for a Wide Variety of Conditions
My guess is that virtually every single person watching this will have — either currently or certainly at some point in their future — a condition that may benefit from laser therapy.
The reason for this goes back to the three mechanisms by which laser therapy affects tissue healing: circulation, oxygenation, and enzyme activity. There are in fact few conditions where none of these three mechanisms play a role in healing.
"Go from head to toe and think about any condition, whether it is pain and/or inflammation and/or tissue damage. We could start at the top of the head and look at situations of a tension headache or a migraine headache. We've got some very great success recently with trigeminal neuralgia and Bell's palsy.
Both are conditions that the sooner we get the laser on them, the more readily the condition will respond. Moving on down, the various neck-related issues — whether it's arthritic neck or related to a motor vehicle accident, on through rotator cuff issues ... carpal tunnel syndrome, trigger finger, De Quervain's syndrome.
Various injuries in the upper extremity, back pain, shingles, low back pain, strains and sprains in the low back, arthritic hips, iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS), arthritic knees, or plantar fasciitis ... Whether it's pain, inflammation, or tissue damage, [laser therapy] can help them," Harrington says.
Harrington even cites a case where a woman suffered from shingles on her face. Not only was she in terrible pain as it was affecting her facial nerves, but it also affected her appearance, as it made her face and eyelid droop. After six K-Laser treatments, she was fully recuperated.
How Laser Therapy Affects Mitochondrial Function
As I mentioned earlier, one of my new passions is mitochondrial optimization. Laser therapy increases adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production, and through my research I've gained a deeper appreciation of this mechanism. Mitochondria have cytochromes within the intracellular membrane, which act like magnets, in the sense that they absorb light energy.
When these photons are absorbed, they produce reactive oxygen species (ROS), primarily superoxide, which then gets converted by superoxide dismutase to hydrogen peroxide.
But here's the clincher: These ROS, while normally dangerous, when produced through a controlled mechanism such as with light therapy they actually facilitate the mitochondrial production of ATP, which provides injured cells with the energy needed for the healing process. And it does this without significantly increasing dangerous free radical production. As noted by Harrington:
"We're not turbo-charging the cells. This is not some sort of artificial stimulant. We're not making the body do anything that it could not normally do; we're just giving it the push with the laser light to help it do the things that it should normally do ... '[W]e remove the interference. Get the interferences out of the way and let the body heal itself.'"
Diet and Drug Use May Hamper Effectiveness of Laser Therapy
I believe optimizing the production of free radicals is one of the central mechanisms of how laser therapy works. But it's also important to realize that you can thwart this healing process by eating the wrong foods and taking certain drugs.
Most people consume "dirty" fuel (glucose) to generate their energy. Glucose generates excessive amounts of ROS, which then generates excessive free radicals (which typically damage the mitochondrial DNA that can consequently damage the nuclear DNA). Dietary fat is a much "cleaner" fuel, as it does not create nearly as much ROS, and hence fewer free radicals.
For this reason, you really want to feed your body fuel that is limited in net carbs. Fiber carbs like vegetables are great — you can eat unlimited amounts of those. It's the simple sugars that break down and generate ROS. What's important to realize is that this can interfere with the beneficial stimulus provided by the light therapy. As explained by Harrington, there's a synergistic effect there.
He also recommends taking ubiquinol or CoQ10 when getting laser therapy treatment, as this will help optimize the treatment. This is particularly true if you're also taking a statin drug. If you're on a statin, and you want laser therapy to work, ubiquinol is a very important adjunct.
In my view, statins may almost be viewed as a contraindication for laser therapy, and here's why: statins work by inhibiting a cholesterol-producing liver enzyme called HMG-CoA reductase. They also inhibit coenzyme Q10 (which is why ubiquinol — the reduced form of CoQ10 — is recommended), and it radically reduces your liver's ability to make ketones.
Fats are the primary fuel the liver produces, which cause your mitochondria and tissues to burn these fuels cleanly. If you shut down that mechanism, you're radically impairing your body's ability to use fat for fuel, and essentially, you're relying on glucose and carbohydrates, which create high amounts of ROS, impairing the effectiveness of the laser treatment.
So diet, supplements, and drugs can all impact the effectiveness of the treatment, for better or worse, and should be taken into consideration.
Different Types of Lasers
Lasers fall into different categories, from low to high power, using different wavelengths, the latter of which refers to the color of the light and is measured in nanometers (nm). Infrared wavelengths are slightly longer than red, and can penetrate deeply into the body. There are also specific wavelengths at which absorption for different components in the tissue peak.
- 800 nm: The 800 nm wavelength has the highest penetration, and here absorption of cytochrome oxidase enzymes is at its peak. Tests reveal the 800 wavelength can deliver a therapeutic dose of light about 10 centimeters into the body, making it effective even for people of great girth, and larger animals, like horses
- 905 nm: At the 905 nm wavelength, there's a peak of absorption for hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the bloodstream. So by using this wavelength, you allow for increased release of available oxygen in the blood stream. This also allows for the removal of carbon dioxide and other metabolic waste products from the damaged area
- 970 nm: Looking at the absorption curve, at 970 nm there's a peak in the absorption for water, and there are therapy lasers on the market that use the 970 wavelength exclusively, to stimulate circulation in the tissues. The 970 nm wavelength is also a potent stimulus to produce structured water in your cells, which has its own plethora of benefits. Boosting structured water is yet another mechanism of action that helps explain the healing power of lasers
The K-Laser uses all three of these wavelengths, plus the 660nm visible red wavelength, which is excellent for superficial wounds, for a total of four simultaneous wavelengths. This is what makes it so superior to other laser devices. As a high-powered, class IV laser, it can also deliver a high amount of light per unit of time, which means you can treat a much larger volume of tissue.
How to Find a Clinic That Uses K-Laser
A variety of therapists use the K-Laser system. Many are chiropractors, but some physicians and physical therapists also use them, especially doctors who do prolotherapy and platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections. To locate a K-Laser practitioner, see K-LaserUSA.com's "Find a Provider" page. As you shop around for a practitioner, questions you may want to ask include:
- Confirm the type of laser used. Class IV therapy laser devices are the most beneficial, as they're the most powerful. However, the K-Laser is the only device on the market using all four wavelengths simultaneously, which makes it the most effective for the widest array of conditions. Other class IV lasers use only one or two wavelengths
- Confirm the clinician is trained in using the device for your condition
- The cost of each treatment. In the U.S., the median cost is about $75 per visit
- The number of visits recommended for the problem or injury in question. While this will vary greatly depending on your condition, anywhere from six to 15 visits is not uncommon. Acute soft tissue injuries typically require six to eight visits, while more chronic conditions, such as arthritic knees, may need upward of eight to 15, plus intermittent "booster" treatments thereafter.
In about 60 percent of cases, patients will notice some improvement after the first visit, even if it's minor. After three visits, 90 percent of patients notice some form of improvement. Also keep in mind that pain relief will be achieved long before the condition itself is fully healed, so it's important to remember that the absence of pain does not equal full recovery
- The recommended frequency of visits
Before Drugs and Surgery, Consider Giving Laser Therapy a Try
I am a major fan of laser therapy and personally own two K-Laser units because my review suggests they are the best units out there. I have successfully treated a large number of friends and professional associates with the K-Laser and have been very impressed. In one case, 10 years of pain in the ankle disappeared in just two treatments. That's not to say all pain will vanish like magic, but it was certainly a powerful testament to its healing ability for me.
When you consider that a painful condition you've suffered with for years might be resolved for a few hundred dollars' worth of K-Laser treatments, I believe you'll agree it's well worth it. Especially when you compare it to the alternatives, which usually involves expensive drugs and/or surgery — both of which can also produce adverse side effects that may end up being permanent. Again, examples of the types of injuries and conditions that K-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
- Just about any issue involving inflammation, tissue damage and/or pain, including but not limited to migraines, trigeminal neuralgia, Bell's palsy, De Quervain's syndrome, shingles, low back pain, iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS), and plantar fasciitis
Animals of all sorts can also 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 for conditions such as arthritis, hip dysplasia, and intervertebral disc disease in dachshunds, for example.
K-LaserUSA.com can help you find both human and veterinary medical providers that are licensed in the use of K-Laser therapy. If you're a clinician, and would like more information about K-Laser, please use the following link.