James R. Speiser, DVM, DABVP, CCRT
August 7, 2015
Laser therapy in veterinary medicine is being used more commonly as a therapeutic aid to many different maladies. There are two types of lasers used in veterinary medicine. There are surgical lasers, which are used as a scalpel to cut tissue, and then there are therapeutic lasers that are used to help tissue heal.
What is a laser? LASER stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Wow! What this means is that a particular type of crystal is bombarded with electricity so that the wavelength of light emitted is all lined up and in sync with each other. One can think of this like a group of soldiers marching in step. Each soldier has to take the same length of step and the legs of the soldiers have to coordinate with each other. So with a laser, depending upon the wavelength emitted and the degree of amplification (boost), the light can be powerful enough to cut tissue, or emit energy into the tissue that can be used to speed healing.
How does a laser stimulate healing? When a doctor shines a particular wavelength of therapeutic laser light onto tissue through a laser hand piece, the light doesn’t just bounce off the tissue, but instead penetrates it and imparts energy to the cells which allows them to be “supercharged.” With additional energy, the cell can work much more efficiently by speeding up cellular machinery required to heal damage to tissue. Laser light does not specifically reduce inflammation, but instead speeds it up so that the pain and swelling associated with early inflammation occurs over a very short period of time. Some of the benefits of laser therapy include increased blood flow to the area, dilation of lymphatic vessels, decreased pain, and the reduction of bacterial growth. The overall net effect of laser therapy dramatically increases the speed of healing.
Laser therapy doesn’t hurt, and pets seem to enjoy the warm tingling sensation they feel in the treated area. When people have been treated with lasers, they’ve noted that they feel no sensation at all until the specific injury is lasered, and that’s when a tingling sensation will arise. Laser therapy only takes a few minutes, although multiple treatments over several days or weeks are usually recommended to get the full benefit.
What type of conditions can benefit from laser therapy? Just about any condition that is painful, or requires assistance for healing can benefit from laser therapy. Some of the more common conditions we treat are:
- Soft tissue strains and sprains
- Post-operative incisions
- Acute bacterial infections of the skin (hot spots)
- Ear infections
Laser therapy is commonly used at IndyVet in conjunction with other rehabilitative modalities such as deep tissue ultrasound, water treadmill, and electro stimulation to assist pets that are being rehabilitated post-operatively after orthopedic or neurosurgery. Regardless, laser therapy used alone can be very effective in speeding healing and reducing pain.