What’s the gift we’d like to have in stock for our readers this holiday season? It would be a healthy dose of common sense, and a reminder that not every health problem needs a medical solution. Unfortunately, few people open their minds when confronted with a swollen joint, an injury to the skin, back pain, broken bones, or even brain injuries. Yet, instead of costly, dangerous drugs that come with side effects, or surgical treatments that involve other risks, these are examples of problems that respond well to alternative forms of therapy.
We have written in the past about low-intensity laser therapy (LILT). It’s now known as photobiomodulation (PBM), which involves the application of light to instigate a natural healing process. There are no drugs and no side effects. It’s a non-invasive, non-toxic treatment for a wide range of health issues ranging from wound healing to age-related degenerative conditions. And although there have been far-reaching claims that deserve some skepticism, the basic scientific premise is clear, people get results, and researchers are intrigued.
Here’s the way it works. Energy, you may recall from high school, travels as electromagnetic waves. Radio waves and microwaves are the long ones. X-Rays and gamma rays are the short ones. Visible light is the segment of the scale of energy waves that the human eye can see. Just longer than visible light are the red and infrared light waves. When applied to the surface of the body, these rays can penetrate through the skin and deep into the tissue below.
These red and infrared light rays act like car mechanics, fixing problems of wear and tear on an engine, but doing it at the cellular level in the human body. When cells are stressed by injuries, struggling with nutritional imbalances, or some other threat, they fail in the performance of their normal functions.
What’s the fix? Every cell in the body has hundreds or thousands of mitochondria, which are membrane structures that generate the chemical energy needed to power the cell. When the long waves of red light are applied to these cells, it’s like the mechanic adding oil to the engine. Things start to work smoothly again.
A review of the research on PBM shows there is interest in the scientific community to explore how widely it can be applied. Studies support the claims of red light as a safe and effective method of treatment for many skin problems, arthritis, and pain control in the most common musculoskeletal conditions. Clinicians offering PBM therapy have achieve success in healing difficult wounds and burns, and in some cases PBM can facilitate tissue regeneration.
A clinical trial by the Wellman Center for Photomedicine at Massachusetts General Hospital found light therapy to be safe and have measurable effects in patients who recently suffered a moderate brain injury. They have also studied its use in stroke patients. A different team of researchers is looking at PBM as a potential treatment for pain associated with nerve injuries.
Visiting a therapist trained in PBM is the right first step to learn whether treatment will have the desired effect. Clinicians will calibrate equipment so that the light reaches the target cells, optimizing the wavelength, dosing, timing of delivery, and length of exposure.
Home-use therapy equipment is also available. If you or a loved one could benefit, then this is an alternative worth considering. Faced with a debilitating problem and given the choice of painkiller dependency or the risks of surgery, light therapy might be the perfect gift.
Photo provided by Diana Gifford-Jones