Sports Injuries Treated with Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT)
A life dedicated to sports can inevitability result in an ache or pain or two. Acute muscular injuries are difficult to treat because physical manipulation of the body part is often contraindicated. As a result, there are currently many limitations to therapeutic treatment of muscle or joint injuries. However, that is one of the big advantages of laser therapy: it can be used immediately after injury and continued throughout the healing process for faster and more effective pain relief.
Low level laser therapy (LLLT) can stimulate any cell in the body where an inflammatory process is occurring. It increases the amount of ATP produced by the mitochondria which gives cells a boost of energy to repair the damage from the inflammatory process. Cell proliferation and inflammatory mediators produced by the cells help with inflammation, edema, and regeneration of tissues. Increased endothelial (blood vessel cell) production creates more capillaries and increased blood flow to the damaged areas of the body. LLLT also increases collagen production, and bone, muscle, and nerve tissue repair.
In an acute muscle injury, blood vessels and muscular tissue are torn and inflammatory cells gain direct access to the site of injury. LLLT helps this healing process by decreasing the length of the inflammatory phase of healing, increasing cellular growth of endothelial (blood vessel) cells, stimulating fibroblast and cartilage production, and promoting cell survival by limiting collateral cellular damage from the inflammatory process. All of this result in the regeneration of the torn muscle fibers and the formation of connective tissue allowing for maximum healing potential.
In a study examining the benefits of LLLT in treating epicondylitis in 324 patients, 81.3% of people achieved 100% pain relief in acute medial or lateral epicondylitis, and 64.4% achieved 100% pain relief in chronic cases compared to the control group.
In another study of 47 soccer players with 2nd degree ankle sprains, scientists concluded that LLLT combined with RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) can reduce edema in second degree ankle sprains 20-30% more than the control group or placebo.
One of the more interesting uses of low level laser therapy in the athletic community is the implementation of laser treatments before physical activity. In a study examining this protocol, 9 male volleyball players had their biceps lasered at specific motor points before a workout. It was shown that they were able to perform 39 reps of an exercise compared to 34 of the control group (a 14.5% increase) and took longer to experience muscle fatigue (by approximately 8%). Blood tests showed lower levels of lactate showing that the muscles are able to recover a lot faster and perform at a higher level for longer. Another study had similar results showing that pre exercise LLLT application decreases oxidative stress leading to a delay in the development of skeletal muscle fatigue, improved skeletal muscle performance, and prevention of muscle damage. This could be a revolutionary tool for professional athletes!
And this last study showed that low level laser therapy improves the efficiency of the healing process by increasing the functionality of the satellite cells, the precursor to muscle cells (also called muscle stem cells). The study reported that “[Their] findings are of critical importance in attempts to improve muscle regeneration following injury.”
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