Low-Level Light Therapy is a form of phototherapy or light therapy; it involves the application of low power light (red and near-infrared light) to injuries or wounds to improve soft tissue healing and relieve both acute and chronic pain. Low-level light therapy aims to biostimulate; because of the low power nature of low-level laser therapy, the effects are biochemical and not thermal and cannot cause heating and thereby damage to living tissue. The therapy is precise and accurate and offers safe and effective treatment for a wide variety of conditions.
Light therapy has been used by veterinarians in Europe on both animals and humans since around 1970. Andre Mester, a Hungarian researcher, reported good results with wound healing on rats in 1968. While veterinarians have been using therapeutic light therapy in the U.S. since the early 1970s.
In simple terms, what does Light Therapy do?
For decades, researchers knew of the healing benefits of every day, non-coherent light such as sunlight. In small doses, sunlight helps heal skin lesions. Of course, if you overexpose yourself to the sun your skin will burn. What if there was a way of safely getting light to deeper tissues? Wouldn’t it help heal those tissues? That is the purpose of low-level light therapy.
Wound healing is greatly improved by red light therapy. This includes even non-healing wounds like Proud Flesh in horses. This is probably due to the increased level of collagen brought about by cold laser treatment. Connective tissue is primarily composed of collagen which is thought to be the most important component in wound healing.
An increase in circulation by widening of the blood vessels. This is important. When you’re treating a stubborn wound, for example, one of the first signs of healing is vascularization of the area—meaning you’ll see tiny blood vessel formation. Once you see this, the healing process is well underway.
Decreased swelling/edema due to lymphatic drainage.
Coherent laser light stimulates the production of the body’s own natural pain-relieving chemicals such as increased endorphin and enkephalin production.
What Are the Five Effects of Red Light Therapy On Body Tissues?
There are basically five effects red light therapy has on living tissues as concerns therapeutic value.
Speeding Up Tissue Repair: Just like the sun is responsible for photosynthesis (which is the conversion of light energy into chemical energy); the light used in cold laser therapy acts to increase energy to the cells by aiding in the synthesis of ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate). Increased energy to the cells means an increased cellular activity for all of the cell’s components that rely on this energy. Speeding up tissue repair also means less scar tissue formation. Scar tissue is a cheaper grade of tissue than never injured tissue. This is particularly important in tendons where they attach to muscles higher up in the leg where there are skeletal muscles. A scarred tendon has less elasticity than normal tendons.
Faster Collagen Formation: Much of an animal’s body tissue is composed of the protein known as collagen. Increased collagen production is necessary for rapid tissue repair, and as mentioned above, to decrease scar tissue formation. This is especially apparent where you see a gooey residue formation around wounds.
Increased Production Of natural Body Painkillers: Endorphins (endomorphins) are endogenous opioid biochemical compounds. They are peptides produced by the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus in vertebrates, and they resemble opiates in their abilities to produce analgesia and a send of well-being. In other words, they might work as "natural pain killers. The term endorphin rush has been adopted in popular speech to refer to feelings of exhilaration brought on by pain or danger, supposedly due to the influence of endorphins, although this term does not occur in the medical literature.
Increased Lymphatic Drainage: Studies have shown that cold laser therapy can dramatically increase the size of the lymphatic ducts thus facilitating protein waste removal. This is especially important in the lower legs of a horse where circulation is limited.
Increased Vascularization: This means increased blood flow to the tissues because of increased capillary formation. That’s the best positive sign you notice when treating a wound. This happens to deeper tissues as well—the ones you can’t see such as muscles and tendons. But when you see blood vessel formation over a wound you know the tissue is starting to heal. Again, first and foremost, never take any chances with healing.
The use of low-level light therapy does not take the place of veterinary care. Before attempting to treat any condition on any animal, consult with a licensed veterinarian first and take their advice over anything you see here.