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Let there Be LASER

Every couple of years, I attend an educational symposium to obtain my biennial 36 hours of continuing education credit. I really enjoy immersing myself in all-day classes for a week. It’s like being a student again: Hanging out, learning cool new stuff... Those were the days!

This time, Barb and I attended the Wild West Veterinary Conference. I attended lectures from 8 AM to 5 PM (and some night classes) for 4 ½ days, and haunted the trade show every lunch hour. That’s what I call a good time!

Laser technology has finally come of age. After years of slow progress, we have finally attained a level of sophistication where the benefits of laser energy are available in progressive veterinary practice. We’re all familiar with LASER SURGERY, where laser light is used to cut or vaporize tissue. The technique can be extremely useful, but it’s a brute force application of the technology. Another approach is to utilize tuned lasers to selectively kill microorganisms without harming living tissue, as is now routinely done to eliminate toenail fungus infections.

LASER THERAPY is the use of laser light to energize living tissue for biological benefit. Laser light, applied to tissue at an appropriate energy dosage, produces rapid and dramatic changes in the behavior of living cells. It is no surprise that this should occur: The body uses sunlight to regulate circadian rhythms and to activate vitamin D. I am fascinated by the immense range of photo-biological effects that can be used to treat disease.

These effects fall into two main categories: Photo THERMAL effects are based upon the application of heat to tissues. An infrared laser emits light at wavelengths that interact with water and also hemoglobin molecules. The excitation of these molecules results in heating of the tissue. We have all experienced how heat can improve the comfort of an injury. Laser thermal therapy applies focused heat to target tissues several inches deep.

Photo BIO-DYNAMIC effects provide the real excitement of laser therapy. Laser irradiation has an anti-inflammatory effect on tissues: blood vessels dilate to increase circulation and increased lymphatic drainage reduces swelling. Tissue production of pro-inflammatory chemical mediators is decreased, pain receptor activity is suppressed, and tissue endorphin release is increased. All of these effects decrease the patient’s perception of pain.

Laser light accelerates cellular reproduction and growth by increasing energy metabolism: Laser therapy activates the energy production systems of immune cells to stimulate lymphocyte activity and production of immunoglobulins. Somatic cells take up nutrients and eliminate waste more quickly. Laser therapy significantly increases the formation of new capillaries, which results in more rapid wound healing, but reduces fibrous tissue formation that results in excessive scarring.

Laser light stimulates both muscle trigger and acupuncture points without mechanical tissue invasion, and accelerates nerve cell repair in damaged tissue that might otherwise result in numbness and motor impairment.

Laser therapy achieves all of these benefits in a safe and rapid, drug-free way that is remarkably free of adverse effects.

This is not to say that lasers are perfectly safe. The ability of therapeutic lasers to stimulate cell growth makes them inappropriate for use on cancers. A 15-watt Class IV laser is capable of damaging the retina and everyone, particularly our dog and cat patients, must wear protective “doggles” when the laser is in use. It’s really kind of cute.

I am excited to offer this proven therapeutic technology to my patients. I see laser therapy as a valuable new tool to reduce pain and inflammation; to promote and speed healing; and to restore comfort and mobility to patients whose response to other therapies has been inadequate (or just too expensive).

My staff and I have been studying like fiends. There are hundreds of pages of information to be digested and hours of instructional video to review; and this beyond the hours of classroom instruction I have already taken. The laser will have arrived by the time you read this. We expect to be providing laser therapy to our patients within a month.

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