Laser Therapy by David Kirkham BSc DVM
When writing these articles, I always try to keep with the general theme of the publication. Admittedly, alternative veterinary medicine is not an area that I venture into often. I do however, have my handful of therapies that have been proven or that I reach for when we’ve exhausted traditional methods. One area of alternative medicine that has really impressed me lately and that I find myself using with increased frequency is cold laser therapy.
Laser therapy is one of the most rapidly growing areas in both human physiotherapy as well as veterinary medicine. This growing popularity is best demonstrated by the fact that there are categories of lectures at the major veterinary conferences dedicated to laser therapy and its applications.
So, how does it work? Laser therapy uses light energy (photons) at very specific wavelengths just outside the visible spectrum to stimulate the body’s own repair mechanisms through a process known as photobiomodulation (minimum 28 point word when playing scrabble). The basic theory is that light energy causes increased blood flow to the treated area by targeting the water in the cells. The photons emitted by the laser also cause the hemoglobin in the individual red blood cells to leave more oxygen at the site as well as activate the enzyme that uses that oxygen to converts the precursor into the active form of ATP. ATP is the energy source for cellular metabolism and fuels recovery as well as function. In other words, the laser recruits and focuses the body’s own healing mechanisms to the area undergoing treatment. Most pets don’t object to the therapy and experience a gentle heat to the affected area.
There seems to be a never-ending list of conditions that laser therapy has been credited with correcting in a number of species. Most commonly in our practice, we’ve been using the laser to assist our senior pets with mobility or orthopedic concerns. The treatment method is also being used post operatively to reduce pain and inflammation associated with the surgery. Laser may also be of benefit to dogs and cats with contaminated wounds, hip dysplasia, fractures, lick granulomas as well as back pain. In horses, laser therapy has been used for tendon and joint issues as well as lacerations and swelling (edema). Interestingly, this modality is also being used to help with painful conditions in geriatric zoo animals including penguins in San Diego.
Laser, by itself, may not be sufficient to cure all conditions. I personally believe that it is much a kin to other alternative medical therapies where they work well in conjunction with traditional methods including nutrition/ weight management as well as pain management. It does offer one more approach to assist these animals with painful conditions or to reduce the amount of drugs needed to maintain a high quality of life for our pets.