Deep Tissue Laser Therapy for Sports Injuries
Sports injury rehabilitation is all about getting back in the game quickly and with optimal health. A relatively new tool for the treatment of sports injuries is finding global success, and it is doing so in a fast, efficient way. In fact, Dr. Oz has called it the "no-pill pain buster."
Trauma from sports injuries causes damage to the cells that make up soft tissues. These damaged cells release chemicals that provoke a natural inflammatory response in the body, which result in redness, swelling, warmth and pain in the injured area. Persistent or recurrent inflammation can predispose athletes to early-onset arthritis or degenerative changes in their joints. This condition can affect the weekend warrior to the elite athlete.
The application of deep tissue laser therapy reduces short-term inflammation. Additionally, laser therapy significantly lowers the risk of arthritis frequently resulting from sports injuries. Laser therapy is used by professional sports teams and athletes to treat inflammation, provide deep-tissue therapy, and accelerate pain relief to help athletes minimize downtime. For the past decade, deep tissue laser therapy has revolutionized treatment in the professional sports world including NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL and USA Cycling athletes, as well as Ironman triathlon competitors, competitive runners, college athletes, former Olympic athletes, and elite cross-fitters.
Mechanism of Action for Laser Therapy
Laser therapy works to photobiostimulate chemically damaged cells via specific wavelengths of light in a coherent manner. Coherence means that light photons propagate in the same direction, amplitude and phase. This is important to maximize the depth of penetration in order to trigger a biological response.
The cell membrane within the skin absorbs these photons via a photochemical effect, not photothermal; therefore, laser therapy does not cause heat damage to the tissues.
When cells are chemically damaged through injury, they stimulate the pain cycle. Laser therapy excites kinetic energy within the cells by transmitting these healing stimuli that are photons. Once photons reach the cells of the body, they promote a cascade of cellular activities.
Laser therapy can ignite the production of enzymes, stimulate mitochondria, increase vasodilation and lymphatic drainage, ATP synthesis, and elevate collagen formation substances to prevent scar tissue. This is a critical step in reducing chronic, disabling myofascial pain syndromes. Simply stated, deep tissue laser therapy enables athletes to get out of pain faster and heal at the same time.
I have found the laser to be a superior tool for the rehabilitation of athletes. Laser therapy is a scientifically proven and effective treatment for a wide range of sports injuries including:
- acute and chronic pain
- ankle sprains
- neck pain
- back pain
- patellofemoral pain syndrome
- Tennis elbow
- Golfers elbow
- Achilles tendonitis
- chronic joint pain of the elbow, wrist, and fingers
- repetitive strain injuries
- plantar fasciitis
- shoulder injuries
As supported by the literature in the field, I see consistent results with my athletic patients for a variety of conditions:
- Deep tissue laser therapy is an effective treatment for sports injuries, particularly jumper's knee, tennis elbow and Achilles tendonitis.
- Laser therapy has been recommended as a treatment option for tennis elbow.
- Laser therapy reduces pain after treatment in acute neck pain and up to 22 weeks after completion of treatment.
- It has positive effects on exercise-induced skeletal muscle fatigue and changes in biochemical markers related to post-exercise recovery.
- A double-blind, randomized, controlled trial showed that laser therapy and exercise therapy is more effective than exercise therapy alone for the purposes of improving pain and active / passive ROM in patients with subacromial syndrome.
- Laser therapy has been shown to be effective for treating chronic neck and shoulder pain, as well as chronic heel pain from plantar fasciitis.
The ease of using the laser and the speed with which the athletes respond are key features of laser therapy. Most laser treatment sessions last from just 10 to 15 minutes. In my experience, its versatility is unmatched because it can be a stand-alone treatment or used in conjunction with chiropractic adjustments, soft-tissue release, instrument-assisted treatments, elastic therapeutic tape or any rehab-oriented protocol.
An Example: Ankle Sprains
One specific application for deep tissue laser therapy is ankle sprains, which have an 80 percent recurrence rate and high rates of subsequent chronic symptoms. The most frequently seen ankle injury is an ankle inversion sprain.
There are a host of causes and risk factors for ankle sprains; a previous history of ankle sprain is the most common risk factor. I've found laser therapy to be instrumental in reducing the swelling and tissue damage that are typically associated with an acute ankle sprain. I've seen recovery times that have been literally decreased by days.
Laser therapy has varied benefits and functions as a superior alternative to analgesics, NSAIDs, medications and other modalities. Furthermore, deep tissue laser therapy reduces the need for surgery and has virtually no contraindications.
- Morimoto Y, Saito A, Tokuhashi Y. Low level laser therapy for sports injuries. Laser Therapy, 2013;22(1):17-20.
- BMJ Clinical Evidence made recommendations to include low-level laser therapy for tennis elbow in 2011.
- Chow RT, Johnson MI, Lopes-Martins RA, et al. Efficacy of low-level laser therapy in the management of neck pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized placebo or active-controlled trials. Lancet, Dec 5, 2009;374(9705):1897-1908.
- Leal Junior EC, Lopes-Martins RA, De Marchi T, et al. Effects of low-level laser therapy (LLLT) in the development of exercise-induced skeletal muscle fatigue and changes in biochemical markers related to postexercise recovery. J Orthoped Sports Therapy, Aug 2010;40(8):524-532.
- Abrisham SM, Kermani-Alghoraishi M, Ghahramani R, et al. Additive effects of low-level laser therapy with exercise on subacrominal syndrome: a randomised, double-blind, controlled trial. Clin Rheumatol, 2011;30:1341-1346.
- Low level laser therapy to reduce chronic pain. ClinicalTrials.gov, NCT00929773, 2009.
Dr. Callie Gant and Dr. Michael Buczynski founded Art of Health Chiropractic to create a happier, healthier Nashville. Feel free to call the office at 615-953-7544 with any questions or to schedule your first appointment. (Article edited from Dr. Robert Silverman - see the full post here)