Laser For Back Pain: Does It Really Work?

Guest Post By Perry Nickelston, DC, NKT, FMS, SFMA

Laser For Back Pain
Lower back pain can be debilitating. It can affect every aspect of your quality of life and functional daily activities. I have experienced terrible episodes of lower back pain from disc herniations that literally brought me to my knees. I know the pain! The one modality that made the biggest changes and lasting results for me was deep tissue laser therapy. So much so, that I purchased my own unit and have been using it for the last ten years helping other people feel better. Some people may have heard of laser for back pain and wanted to learn more, others don’t even know it’s an option. This article is designed to help both of you learn more and know there is always hope using wonderful devices based in science and research that can be helpful.

Effective rehabilitation protocols require a strategic and comprehensive approach integrating soft tissue techniques, fascial manipulation, joint manipulation, and functional movement patterning. Restoring optimal range of motion and reducing pain by transitioning a client from passive to active care should be the primary goal. Decreasing the time a client spends in the passive phase of care and teaching painless functional active rehab of the kinetic chain will help improve compliance. Using therapeutic modalities to significantly increase recovery times and heal chemically damaged cells while strengthening surrounding tissue can decrease passive therapy and accelerate the natural regeneration process of injured areas.

Laser therapy for back pain is the modality you have been searching for to enhance recovery and regeneration. Understanding the therapeutic mechanisms of action involved with laser therapy and treatment protocols are essential. Successful use of any modality in clinical practice ultimately depends on the expertise and skill of the practitioner. Let’s take an in depth look at the physiological benefits of laser therapy and how it can be integrated into rehabilitation programs.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first low level Class III laser (LLLT) in 2002 and the first Class IV therapy laser in 2003. The most significant clinical and therapeutic difference between Class IV lasers and Class III is the Class IV higher power output may produce a primary bio-stimulative effect on deeper tissues. Reaching deep tissue structures is critical to rehabilitation and recovery. If you cannot reach the intended target tissue with adequate therapeutic laser dosages overall clinical results will diminish. Laser therapy excites the kinetic energy within cells by transmitting healing energy known as photons. The skin absorbs these photons via a photo-chemical effect, not photo-thermal; therefore it does not cause heat damage to tissues. As such, laser can be safely used on patients who have metal joint replacements without the risk of injury.

Laser light does not excite or interact with the molecules in metal or plastic. Once photonic energy reaches damaged cells of the body, they promote a cascade of cellular activities. It can ignite the production of enzymes, stimulate mitochondria, increase vasodilation and lymphatic drainage, ATP synthesis, and elevate collagen formation substances to prevent the formation of scar tissues. This is a critical step in reducing long term disabling chronic myofascial pain syndromes and joint restrictions.

Photobiomodulation, otherwise known as laser biostimulation, is the medical term in which exposure to laser light enhances tissue growth and healing. Photobioregeneration is also used as a term in describing laser therapy because of the cellular healing effects.

Here is a partial list of positive effects of Photobiomodulation on the body, all of which are a crucial part of long term healing:

• Increased leukocyte activity (acceleration of tissue repair and decrease of pain)
• Increased neovascularization (new vessel growth and increase oxygenation)
• Increased fibroblast production (speeds tissue repair)
• Increased tensile strength (helps prevent re-injury)
• Stabilization of cellular membrane of damaged cells
• Enhancement of ATP production and synthesis
• Decreased C-Reactive protein Neopterin and acceleration of leukocytic activity
• Enhanced lymphocyte response with reduction of Interleukin 1 (IL-1)
• Increased prostaglandin synthesis
• Enhanced superoxide dismutase (SOD) levels
• Stimulation of vasodilation with increased angiogenesis (new blood vessels)

Principle factors of success with laser therapy for fascial restrictions and joint rehabilitation include; optimal dosage, power, wavelength, and accurate clinical diagnoses.

Maintaining or restoring movement of specific segments is the key to preventing or correcting musculoskeletal pain. Fundamentally, rehabilitation is about movement, and lots of it. The base foundation of functional movement is proper joint mobility and stability. Without adequate mobility and stability of joints in the kinetic chain you end up with dysfunctional movement. Activities of daily living are then built on dysfunctional movement patterns, resulting in compensation, and injury. Microtrauma results from small amounts of stress imposed on the body over time caused by poor biomechanics and the body compensates with suboptimal joint alignment, muscle coordination, and posture. Joints begin approximating in an effort to gain stability lost from muscular weakness and compensation. This process known as ‘Joint Centration’ is an inherent protective mechanism of the body which if left uncorrected may cause osteoarthritis, degeneration, and decreased mobility.

Laser Therapy Back Pain

Postural movement patterns are learned early in life by the central nervous system (CNS). However, structural or functional body stressors (tension, trauma, genetics, etc.), may prevent achievement of optimum posture. Faulty postures from physical compensations alter joint mechanical behavior, flexibility and range of motion. The increase in mechanoreceptor stimulation from chronically locked joints results in neuro-reflexive muscular changes, i.e., protective muscle guarding. Long-standing over-activation of abnormal joint reflexes causes changes in spinal cord memory that eventually “burns a neural groove” in the CNS as the brain and cord are unknowingly saturated with a constant stream of inappropriate proprioceptive information.

Inherently, the brain comes to rely on this faulty information about where it is in space to determine how to establish perfect posture. The brain simply forgets what its alignment should be. In other words, the body now makes the abnormal its new normal. Neurology wins every time. The silent progression of faulty postures and dysfunctional movement patterns are part of the reflexogenic relationship between muscles and joints. Neurogenic muscle activation patterning by combining laser therapy and functional movement rehabilitation is an effective way to ‘reprogram’ the CNS for optimal function and reverse abnormal patterning.

Laser affected areas prior to active movement patterning to accelerate the metabolic rate of deep tissue structures. Laser therapy on muscle attachment sites can increase a cascade of neurological input to the CNS enhancing proprioceptive awareness. Most rehabilitation cases require 6-10 laser therapy sessions for maximum benefit depending on the individual and Class of laser used for treatment. Laser affected joint and surrounding tissue with a therapeutic dose following current research of (4-12 J/cm2) depending on depth of tissue. (Joules is the measurement of photon energy in J/cm2).

Each therapy program is different depending on the unique circumstances of each movement pattern dysfunction. There is no baseline laser therapy program for pain syndromes. The history of each patient determines the laser therapy protocols. The above mentioned dosage range is a benchmark foundation for treatment. When administered correctly, deep tissue laser therapy for back pain can have significant and profound positive impact on healing.



Perry Nickelston, DC

Learn more about Dr. Nickelston and Laser Therapy For Back Pain at:

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