Light Therapy – What does science tell us?
How Light Therapy Is Changing Healthcare
Light therapy, also referred as Photobiomodulation (PBM), and previously referred to as Low-Level-Laser(Light)-Therapy (LLLT) is a low-risk, non-invasive, mode of therapy that utilizes various wavelengths of light and has been shown to help reduce pain, stimulate hair growth, rejuvenate the skin by reducing wrinkles, accelerate wound healing and much more.
With the rising cost of healthcare as a result of an increased life expectancy and prolonged chronic and recurring medical conditions, patients and healthcare providers are seeking ways to reduce cost while improving outcomes and minimizing frequency of visits to the clinician. For optimal results, PBM must be applied numerous times in a consistent manner, for certain conditions on a daily basis. This is what makes at-home treatment modalities critical in the pursuit of more efficient and cost effective approaches.
“Home-use devices allow seniors, persons with disabilities or chronic health issues, and individuals recovering from injury, surgery, or illness to remain at their homes, which frequently turns out to be much more affordable than hospitalization or multiple ambulatory clinic visits.” (Lilach Gavish and Nicollete Nadine Houreld, 2018)
Therapeutic Light – Beyond Cosmetic Uses
Currently, PBM has several approved indications for the treatment of non-cosmetic conditions, including pain reduction, increased blood flow and wound healing. More recently, a large body of scientific evidence has shown its efficacy in the treatment various other conditions, including: 1) radiation-induced lymphedema and dermatitis during chemotherapy treatment, 2) traumatic brain injury (TBI), 3) hypertrophic scars, 4) Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), 5) diabetic ulcers and neuropathy, and 6) inflammatory conditions, i.e., tendinopathies.
What Makes A Light Therapy Device Effective
There are numerous devices on the market that take advantage of light to treat various conditions, some tailored for their cosmetic effects, while others on treating disease, but, not all are created equal. There are several variables inherent to all systems, including wavelength, power of source, energy density, power density, irradiation time, and total applied energy, as well as, variability in the recommended number of sessions required and the time interval between them (Jan Tuner, 2018). When reviewing articles pertaining to PBM and its efficacy, one must differentiate between devices that use Laser versus those that use Light-Emitting-Diodes (LEDs). The main difference between the two types of devices pertains to their ability to penetrate the body. Both are equally efficient at penetrating superficial surfaces and structures close to the surface, while lasers are better suited in treating deeper structures. With the rapid advancement of the LED technology, and their inherent safety (lasers have more stringent regulation), most at-home devices on the market today incorporate LEDs.
There is great variability in the types of conditions PBM is being used for, some presenting on the surface while others affect deeper tissues in the body. The depth of penetration of a particular device is also dependent on the wavelength used, Near Infrared (NIR; 750-950nm) having the greatest penetration.
The majority of non-cosmetic devices currently on the market incorporate either NIR or Red light (620-750nm), with certain exceptions, including acne, psoriasis, and mood disorders. Nauser et al (2011), demonstrated that using the red wavelength increased blood flow through the emissary veins located on the scalp surface, in turn concluding that there is evidence to support the use of both NIR and Red light to treat deeper tissues and surfaces in the body.
Applications For Deep Tissue Light Therapy
One of the first applications for PBM was wound healing, and therefore most widely studied. When searching for light therapy and wound healing studies using PubMed.org, a well-known resource for scientific articles, 2255 articles are found, dating back to the mid-1970s. More recent studies have demonstrated accelerated healing of acute herpes labialis as well as diabetic wounds (Sanchez M et al, 2012; de Carvalho RR et al, 2010; Schindl et al, 1999; Nather A, 2007).
What about the application of PBM prophylactically (preventively)? Carvalho RR et al (2010) reported improvement in macroscopic (visible to the naked eye) appearance and reduction in scar thickness using NIR as compared to controls in patients undergoing surgery for inguinal (groin) hernias. Bartlett and Boucher (2010) reported similar results using a home-use device on patients undergoing surgical procedures and are prone to scar formation.
Your Patients Are Being Exposed
With new studies being published every year supporting the efficacy of PBM for both medical and cosmetic effects, it is not surprising that the market has seen a large increase the options consumers are presented with. The convenience and portability, in conjunction with ease of communication with practitioners, has created a market that is searching for more sophisticated and effective options.
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