Laser is an acronym for “Light Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation.” The invention was first used in industry during the 1960s. Over the next 20 years the technology was refined for a variety of medical purposes.
Since the 1980s, there have been major advances in medical laser technology. Today, a doctor may refer you for laser treatment to alleviate a range of problems, from skin disorders and blood vessel abnormalities to eye surgery. Lasers also have dermatological and cosmetic applications, including depilation (hair removal), stretchmark reduction, and tattoo removal. Types of laser treatment include low-level laser therapy (LLLT), laser acupuncture and high-power laser therapy (HPLT).
How Laser Treatment Works
There are many types of laser, all capable of emitting concentrated beams of single wavelength light. Lasers enable precision treatments on a target tissue, with minimal impact on surrounding tissue. This is achieved by adjusting the frequency, wavelength, intensity, pulse duration and direction of the laser beams.
Low-Level Laser Therapy
LLLT is increasingly being used in physical therapy and chiropractic and sports medicine, as well as in mainstream medicine. It does not induce heating in tissue like surgical or aesthetic lasers, rather, it works by using low-level lasers—or light-emitting diodes—to alter cellular function. Damaged cells respond better than healthy cells to photochemical reactions, and brief treatments with low-level light are thought to induce a complex chain of physiological reactions that enhance wound healing and tissue regeneration.
LLLT can be used to treat jaw pain, reducing the pain and inflammation, as well as increasing the range of motion to the neck and making it easier to open the jaw wide. High-power laser therapy (HPLT) may also be recommended to treat jaw pain.
Tests suggest LLLT provides short-term pain relief for sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, neck pain and possibly chronic joint disorders. Studies have shown its beneficial use in tooth replantation.
Are you scared of needles but would like to try acupuncture? This could be the answer. As the concentration of light is highest just under the skin, low-level laser beams are used to stimulate acupuncture points. This remedy has been used for soft tissue injuries, pain, wound and bone repair, lymphatic and circulatory disorders. It has also been used to treat addiction, stress and a variety of skin conditions. Laser acupuncture is often used to treat children as it is painless, treatment times tend to be short and it is more acceptable to children than needle acupuncture.
High-Power Laser Therapy
HPLT works through the directed application of heat or “selective photothermolysis.” Technicians adjust the frequency of light (photo) to produce heat (thermo) in the area targeted for destruction (lysis). Varicose veins can be treated using this type of laser surgery and a doctor might recommend HPLT, under local anesthetic, to burn off stubborn warts.
Having a Laser Treatment
Laser treatments are carried out at clinics and in some instances may be done under local anesthetic. Many of the treatments are noninvasive and offer an alternative to taking pharmaceutical drugs.
As a laser cannot penetrate clothing it must be applied directly to the skin; patients say they experience a warm sensation to the skin that is not painful. Most sessions last for just five to 10 minutes, although treatment for varicose veins may take one or two hours. You may need a series of treatments, depending on your condition.
LLLT is extremely safe, although it is advised not to stare directly at the laser and to use safety glasses. There are some slight risks associated with laser surgery similar to other forms of surgery such as bleeding, infection and scarring. Tell the technician if you are pregnant and mention any medical condition you have and other treatments or medicines you are taking. Laser treatment should be postponed or avoided during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
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