By Julius Goepp, MD
Chronic neck and lower back pain trouble millions of adults, and are notoriously difficult to conquer using traditional medical or surgical techniques. LLLT is showing tremendous promise in this challenging group of patients.
For instance, Australian pain researchers treated 90 subjects with chronic neck pain, randomly assigning them to receive either an active laser or a “sham” (placebo) light source.26 The mean pain scores dropped by approximately 50% in the treated group while actually increasing slightly in the placebo group, and measures of quality of life showed substantial improvements in the LLLT group as well. Pain relief in this very difficult-to-treat group of patients lasted at least three months (the researchers did not follow the patients longer, so we don’t know how much longer the effects actually lasted).
Iranian researchers have now found similarly encouraging results in people with chronic low back pain.27 They treated 61 adults with pain that had lasted at least 12 weeks, providing a third of the patients with LLLT alone, a third with LLLT plus exercise, and a third with placebo laser plus exercise. The people treated with both low-level laser and exercise experienced significant improvements in pain scores, range of movement, and overall disability compared with the exercise-only group. This is a remarkable finding in patients who are typically resistant to almost any form of pain relief! Turkish researchers studying acute herniated disk pain have also found that LLLT is an effective non-surgical option for people with this debilitating condition that has often required surgical interventions.28
Wrist and Elbow Pain
Upper extremity pain plagues virtually everyone from time to time, and an unfortunate large minority of people suffers from such pain more or less constantly. Two of the biggest culprits, carpal tunnel syndrome and lateral epicondylitis (“tennis elbow”) both arise from overuse of the wrist or arm, and both can cause not just pain but loss of grip strength along with paresthesias (numbness and tingling). Traditional management of both conditions has included use of oral pain and anti-inflammatory medications and sometimes painful steroid injections. Carpal tunnel syndrome may ultimately require surgery to release pressure built up by inflamed tendons passing through the narrow bony channel at the wrist. Both of these maddening conditions are now yielding to management with LLLT, with studies from around the world demonstrating decreases in pain scores and functional status, including in many cases improvements in grip strength.15,29-31 At least one study has also found LLLT to be superior to traditional bracing for tennis elbow sufferers.32
Knee and Ankle Pain
In addition to Dr. Nordquist’s own extensive experience with pain in the lower extremities, there’s good evidence from other researchers around the world that LLLT is effective in reducing pain in the knees.5,33 Astonishingly, some orthopedists and anesthesiologists are now reporting success of LLLT in treating acute joint and tissue injuries such as ankle sprains as well as accelerating functional recovery.34
Summary of Studies
In addition to the many individual studies demonstrating the potency of LLLT at treating chronic pain, there are now dozens of “systematic reviews” that summarize the results of smaller studies. Scientists and practicing physicians alike often rely on these powerful articles to help them distinguish between truly effective forms of treatment, and those that may look good in small individual studies but fall short on closer analysis. LLLT passes this rigorous test with flying colors, with favorable systematic reviews now available on its benefits in treating chronic pain in the TMJ area, neck pain, and pain in all major joints in the extremities.12,13,22,35-41
With this tremendous collection of positive information about LLLT in hand, we asked Dr. Nordquist to describe a typical first experience in his treatment center. What, we wondered, could patients expect as they come through the door?
“It’s a very non-threatening experience,” Dr. Nordquist explained. “The first thing we do is a thorough physical examination by a board-certified internist who is also skilled in integrative medicine. We do that mainly to be sure the patient’s pain isn’t a sign of a more troubling condition such as a tumor or fracture—the LLLT treatment itself is so safe that there really aren’t any medical conditions that would be contraindications. We do see LLLT as part of a comprehensive approach to healthy lifestyles, of course, and the Bahamas Anti-Aging Institute encourages and supports the use of nutritional and hormonal treatments as well—that’s one of the reasons why we think we are such a good fit for the Institute.
“After the initial physical exam, patients receive an actual prescription for 10 individualized treatment sessions with LLLT,” Dr. Nordquist continued. “That way patients can be certain that every treatment is done only under a physician’s supervision. Patients then complete a comprehensive form (we can help them with that), so that we can understand exactly where their pain is, what it feels like, what makes it better and worse, and so on. We enter all of that information into our custom-built computer program, which produces an individualized treatment plan specifying the specific target zones for treatment, the duration for each zone, and the laser energy that is best-suited for that person’s condition.”
We asked about duration of treatments, and how long people could expect the results to last. “Treatment at each specific zone lasts only about a minute,” Dr. Nordquist said. “So even though we target many different zones at each painful site, we can typically complete one treatment session within 30 minutes.” Patients receive one complete treatment session daily for 10 days, usually experiencing considerable relief immediately. “Most of our patients have reported excellent control of their pain for at least two to three years,” Dr. Nordquist pointed out with justifiable pride.
What’s the recommendation for activity during and after the treatments? “We ask them to take it easy during their treatment period,” replied Dr. Nordquist. “After the entire course of therapy is finished, we do remind them that we’ve controlled their pain, but that they need to use ordinary common sense about strenuous activity, in order to avoid exacerbating the underlying condition. But when people are able to move about with ease again, we often see that they lose weight, and that by itself can often help reduce further joint damage.”
What about prescription medications and painkillers? Can people reduce their dependence on these drugs? “Let me tell you about my most rewarding experience with LLLT,” was Dr. Nordquist’s reply. “And this is not an unusual story in this field. A young woman on crutches was assisted into my clinic by her husband and child—she’d been terribly overweight and had undergone gastric bypass surgery, but she was left with severe degenerative arthritis of the knees. She was on heavy doses of prescription narcotics, was having sleep disturbances, and her employer and family were concerned that she was addicted to the medications. By the eighth or ninth treatment session, she’d stopped all of her medications—and she came to her 10th session unassisted, walking like a child again!”
The astonishing ability of human tissue to interact with low-intensity, non-destructive laser light has opened a new world of possibilities for those who suffer from chronic pain.
Dr. Nordquist is now able to bring that healing power to a larger group of patients, thanks to the partnership that he’s spearheaded with the Bahamas Anti-Aging Institute, where his new LLLT center is now open. There are no known ill effects to the use of these very low-powered lasers. This treatment modality may be covered by several private insurers, though many patients will have to pay out of pocket.
Scientists from around the world have contributed to the massive evidence base for the effectiveness of LLLT—and the relief of human suffering as a result is truly staggering to consider.
Dr. Nordquist along with Norman Gay, MD and his colleagues have opened a center for LLLT at the Bahamas Anti-Aging Medical Institute.
According to Dr. Nordquist, “The Institute specializes in chronic pain management, creating integrative programs that incorporate the most cutting edge therapies with standard therapies to assist the patient with management of their chronic pain.”
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