What is laser therapy and how does it work?
A laser is essentially a focussed beam of light used to transmit high energy light into a medium. There is some variation in how laser light is delivered therapeutically, it can for example be applied as a single focused beam, or a as a set of beams pulsing at a high rate.
Different methods have different efficacies depending on what they’re being used to treat and how, and your physiotherapist will make a recommendation based on their knowledge and experience.
As in other electrotherapies, your tissues have to absorb light energy to achieve any effect. Typically shorter wavelengths of light are more readily absorbed by the darker pigments in your skin like melanin.
What a laser does upon delivery is generate heat, disrupt electron flow, and through these two mechanisms begin biochemical changes. These may not sound like therapeutic mechanisms, but they are, targeting the cell membrane to achieve their effects.
The term used to describe the therapeutic biological changes that laser therapy initiates is photobioactivation. The energy from laser therapy is primarily absorbed by the cell membrane, and the physiological state of the cell prior to treatment often determines the amount of energy observed.
Cells in a poorer metabolic state often absorb more than neighbours who are in good condition. The effects of laser therapy in terms of the outcomes achieved are generally considered to be an improvement in proliferation and motility, the triggering of immune mechanisms (white blood cells etc.), and an up regulated metabolism.
Laser therapy and physiotherapy
Laser therapy is used to augment traditional physiotherapeutic techniques like massage and exercise. Advancements in technology have made delivering the treatment quick, efficient, and safe, particularly at the lower wavelengths of light used in this capacity.
In general terms your physio might recommend laser treatment for chronic pain issues and for wound healing, both of which are areas in which the technique’s efficacy has been proven.