Laser Bio-Stimulation

The use of low levels of visible or near infrared light for reducing pain, inflammation and edema, promoting healing of wounds, deeper tissues and nerves, and preventing tissue damage has been known for almost forty years since the invention of lasers. Originally thought to be a peculiar property of laser light (soft or cold lasers), the subject has now broadened to include photobiomodulation and photobiostimulation using non-coherent light. Despite many reports of positive findings from experiments conducted in vitro, in animal models and in randomized controlled clinical trials, LLLT remains controversial. This likely is due to two main reasons; firstly the biochemical mechanisms underlying the positive effects are incompletely understood, and secondly the complexity of rationally choosing amongst a large number of illumination parameters such as wavelength, fluence, power density, pulse structure and treatment timing has led to the publication of a number of negative studies as well as many positive ones. In particular a biphasic dose response has been frequently observed where low levels of light have a much better effect than higher levels. This introductory review will cover some of the proposed cellular chromophores responsible for the effect of visible light on mammalian cells, including cytochrome c oxidase (with absorption peaks in the near infrared) and photoactive porphyrins. Mitochondria are thought to be a likely site for the initial effects of light, leading to increased ATP production, modulation of reactive oxygen species and induction of transcription factors. These effects in turn lead to increased cell proliferation and migration (particularly by fibroblasts), modulation in levels of cytokines, growth factors and inflammatory mediators, and increased tissue oxygenation. The results of these biochemical and cellular changes in animals and patients include such benefits as increased healing in chronic wounds, improvements in sports injuries and carpal tunnel syndrome, pain reduction in arthritis and neuropathies, and amelioration of damage after heart attacks, stroke, nerve injury and retinal toxicity.

1. HISTORY

In 1967 a few years after the first working laser was invented, Endre Mester in Semmelweis University, Budapest, Hungary wanted to test if laser radiation might cause cancer in mice [1]. He shaved the dorsal hair, divided them into two groups and gave a laser treatment with a low powered ruby laser (694-nm) to one group. They did not get cancer and to his surprise the hair on the treated group grew back more quickly than the untreated group. This was the first demonstration of “laser biostimulation”. Since then, medical treatment with coherent-light sources (lasers) or noncoherent light (light-emitting diodes, LEDs) has passed through its childhood and adolescence. Currently, low-level laser (or light) therapy (LLLT), also known as “cold laser”, “soft laser”, “biostimulation” or “photobiomodulation” is practiced as part of physical therapy in many parts of the world. In fact, light therapy is one of the oldest therapeutic methods used by humans (historically as solar therapy by Egyptians, later as UV therapy for which Nils Finsen won the Nobel prize in 1904 [2]). The use of lasers and LEDs as light sources was the next step in the technological development of light therapy, which is now applied to many thousands of people worldwide each day. In LLLT the question is no longer whether light has biological effects but rather how energy from therapeutic lasers and LEDs works at the cellular and organism levels and what are the optimal light parameters for different uses of these light sources.