The word “LASER” is an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. It is emitted through a “LED”: Light Emitting Diode.
Lasers are one of the most underutilized treatment modalities that we have to offer animals in the veterinary world.
Yet it is one of the safest and most effective devices to utilize. Fortunately, laser therapy is rising in popularity and availability for our dogs.
A Laser generates a beam of very intense light.
The term “Cold Laser” means that the light and penetrates with no heating effect or damage to the skin.
To understand how it works you have to go way back to the basic form of all matter: the atom. The atom consists of protons, neutrons, and electrons moving around a nucleus.
When an electromagnetic charge is applied, electrons change orbits and photons are released. Photons are bundles of energy that carry light to the body. During everyday life, photons from ordinary and man-made light bombard the skin’s surface but do not penetrate beyond the surface. The color and polarization properties of the laser allow it to penetrate the skin and be absorbed into the underlying tissues.
When the photons reach the tissues below, it directs energy to the body’s cells which the cells then convert into chemical energy.
So basically, it starts with physics and ends with chemistry!
Photons, absorbed into the cell membranes, trigger biological changes within the body and kick-off cellular energy systems (remember the Krebs’s cycle from Biology class?).
Photons will only be absorbed by the cells that have been injured and need help.
Benefits of laser therapy for dogs
- increased healing
- decreased pain
- reduction of unwanted scar tissue
- decreased bacterial counts
- reduced inflammation, etc.
In some cases, it can actually help accelerate the formation of “good” scar tissue. Laser therapy does not just speed up healing it actually improves repair, regeneration, and remodeling of tissue.
Therefore, the laser is usually very effective in the following conditions:
- hip and elbow dysplasia
- muscle strains
- ligament sprain
- post-surgery to seal incisions
- skin conditions as ulcerations
- open wounds
- lick granulomas,
- speeding up the healing of fractures
There is also emerging evidence of its use in nerve regeneration and spinal cord injuries.
The laser procedure is painless and fast.
It sometimes requires shaving the animal’s coat is very thick and long, covering the animal’s eyes, or using protective gear, depending on the type of equipment used. It usually elicits a brief high-pitched signal, to alert the user of the instant the laser begins.
A laser is given to your dog via a probe or pad.
If using it directly over a wound or open incision the therapist should sanitize the probe or pad and apply a clear plastic barrier first. Delivered in joules of light, the most powerful laser units deliver 1 joule in 1-5 seconds. The treated body part, overall body size, and color of the dog’s coat determine the dosing.
Laser units have 2 key parameters which dictate their function or capability: Wavelength, measured in nanometers and Power, measured in milliwatts.
True laser starts at a wavelength of 800nm nanometers, and power of 500 to 900 milliwatts
Anything lower than that is considered to be infrared light. Resist the temptation to purchase home models that advertise having high wavelengths of 600, 770 even 800 nm. It sounds good but usually, the power is so low that they are not very effective or able to elicit a measurable clinical response. Wavelength alone is not effective without sufficient power.
Contraindications to laser therapy
- the dog is sensitive to light
- over a cancerous tumor
- in or near the eyes
- during pregnancy
- directly over growth plates
- during an active infection
- when antibiotics or high levels of steroids have just been started
Sometimes your physical therapist needs to weigh the benefits and risks when deciding to use a laser in unique situations.
I recently had to decide to use laser over a growth plate for a compound fracture in the shoulder. The injury was likely to result in limb amputation. Therefore, the risk of having laser affect the growth plate was less important than the attempt to save the limb.
I am happy to say that it was the right decision. The fracture healed quickly with laser and the limb was saved, with no apparent loss of length.
I chose to provide specific, and hopefully not too boring, information about laser therapy. My aim was to arm you with the ability to ask important questions about laser treatment. It should be performed by a veterinarian, an animal-trained physical therapist, or animal-trained chiropractor.
You should feel free to ask about the laser’s power and wavelength. If the provider does not know or unwilling to tell you then beware. Their unit may not be a true laser or they lack in training.
In my case, I get so excited when I use this modality that clients consider putting a muzzle on me!
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