Ancient Practice... Modern Technology
It was nearly thirty years ago that the author brought the ancient practice of Acupuncture and Shorinji Kempo (an ancient Zen Buddhist martial art) to Alabama from Japan. Several doctors had heard of acupuncture but few had actually seen it used and Stump was a doctor of Oriental Medicine working with the United States Sports Academy in Daphne, Alabama. He was to attend the 1986 Asian games in China and the 1988 Olympic games in Seoul, Korea as a team doctor.
Now, here it is 2004, another Olympic year has ended and a new technology has been introduced to the Sports world and the health care of its participants. This technology is really not new in the health care field except here in the United States. It has been used in most of the modern European and Asian countries for the last few decades and for unknown reasons the FDA would not allow its use in this country.
Laser technology has been growing rapidly around the world for the last decade. Doctors here using the surgical lasers but even that use was limited. Within the last year the FDA has approved the use of therapeutic lasers. These are reduced in the amount of mW that can be used and cause no pain or have no harmful effects.
There are a few things you should know about these lasers before we go any further with our discussion. Light has been used for healing for thousands of years, starting with the Chinese, Greeks and Romans who recognized the positive effects of sunlight. Our present scientists have come to understand more about the nature of light and its restorative capacity; techniques and devices have been developed in the last few years that use light as part of the healing process.
What we usually call light is the visible part of the spectrum of electromagnetic radiation. We are all familiar with the rainbow effect and what we call light is that range of colors that we see. Conventional light has a thermal effect; it warms up the skin. For example ultraviolet light is the part of the spectrum that causes a tanning of one’s skin; infrared light is used as a heat source.
Sometimes referred to as soft or cold, with the Low-Level Laser the light is compressed from a wavelength of the cold, red part of the spectrum of electromagnetic radiation. It is different from natural light in that it is one precise color; it is coherent (it travels in a straight line), essentially monochromatic (a very narrow bandwidth of two or three wavelengths) and polarized (it concentrates its beam in a defined location or spot.) These properties allow laser light to penetrate the surface of the skin with no heating effect, no damage to the skin and no known side effects. Laser light directs bio-stimulation light energy to the body’s cells, which the cells then convert into chemical energy to promote natural healing and pain relief. (1) In the past decade there have been over 2000 scientific studies to illustrate the therapeutic effect of the low level laser.
HOW DOES A LASER WORK?
Lasers work by stimulating the photo acceptor sites on the cell membrane, triggering a secondary messenger to initiate a cascade of intracellular signals that initiate, inhibit or accelerate biological processes such as wound healing, inflammation, or reduction of pain. (2)
The Low-level light therapy uses cold laser light energy to direct bio-stimulation light energy to the body’s cells without injuring or damaging them in any way. The energy range of low level laser light lies between 1 and 500mW (milli-watts), while for surgical lasers, the energy range lies between 3000 and 10000mW.
Low-level lasers supply energy to the body in the form of non-thermal photons of light. When pulsed at certain pulse rates the therapy device optimizes the immune responses of the blood. This has both anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive effects. It is a scientific fact that light transmitted to the blood in this way has positive effects throughout the whole body, supplying vital oxygen and energy to every cell. (1)
- Low Level Laser promotes healing in many conditions because it increases the ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate) level and activates enzymes in the targeted cells.
- Growth factor response within the cells and tissue is increased as a result of enhanced ATP and protein synthesis.
- Improved cell proliferation is apparent.
- Pain (both acute and chronic) relief as result of increased endorphin release.
- A strengthened immune system response due to increasing levels of lymphocyte activity.
- There is a pronounced anti-inflammatory and anti-edematous effect.
With the application of this laser light to injuries or wounds, soft tissue healing rate and pain relief are accomplished. Additionally, the process increases the speed, quality and tensile strength of tissue repair, increasing the blood supply to the affected area, stimulating the immune system, nerve function, developing collagen and muscle tissue, and helping to generate new healthy cells and tissue and promoting faster wound healing and clot formation. Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT) does no damage to tissue cells and is safe in most applications. The therapy is precise, accurate, easy to administer and offers safe and effective treatment for a wide variety of conditions.
HAVE YOU SEEN THE LIGHT?
Many biological components that take place in the tissue have been successfully demonstrated with the use of therapeutic LLLT. One of these is the significant enhancement of ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate). This compound is one of the cardinal absorbents of the resting living state of the cell and without it the cell cannot maintain life! (3) Therapeutic LLLT increases ATP production in the mitochrondia of the cell. With more energy available, the cell may utilize this fuel to operate more efficiently.
Since Lohmann’s discovery of ATP in 1929, we know that ATP is the product of energy metabolism, aerobic as well as anaerobic. Further, we know that in muscles, ATP is absorbed in myosin. This is one key that helps us to understand how specific lasers are able to significantly re-establish the muscle function clinically in a very short period of time.
Not only does laser increase ATP at the cellular level, but researchers have shown that it causes stimulation of the mitochondria, cellular enzymes, macrophage activation, collagen synthesis, significant increase of granulation tissue, increased permeability of cell membranes, increase of serotonin and endorphin levels with decreased fiber activity and bradykinin. (4) These are but a few mechanisms that have been proven to take place with laser irradiation. There is no other modality known that even comes close to the myriad of physiological changes that take place with the laser and yet cause no adverse effects.
In an article by Kahan and Fitz-Ritson and articles by David Rindge they elaborate on the scientific merits that therapeutic laser provides.(5) White and Kaesberg-White also do an astute job at explaining a great deal about the possible virtues of laser therapy based upon recent research findings.(6)
Acupuncturist’ are in the perfect position to best use this emerging technology. They work with pain patients every day. They are eminently familiar with cell physiology, kinesiology and muscle physiology. The application of this coherent light is unparalleled in the physiologic therapeutics arena.
THIS CAN BE AN ADVANCE FOR ACUPUNCTURE
I was introduced to laser technology and therapy in 1989 in China when asked to present a professional paper at a sports medicine conference in Beijing. At that time I saw Chinese acupuncturists’ using the methodology. This technology was not yet accessible in the United States, however few years later it was available to acupuncturist in Russia and Europe, the place of its inception. Now the laws allow for this laser technology to be utilized not only by Medical specialist, but by other doctors understanding the technology and its administration as well.
Be an informed consumer before accepting a laser treatment. Know that it is very good for some conditions like neuropathy and not as helpful with other conditions like discs problems. The research is still being conducted on what conditions it treats best although it is showing promise with many disease states that neuroscientist thought it would be no help for like neuropathy, a very debilitating condition of the lower legs that there was little help for as one aged. Now the laser is helping many with neuropathy and many other conditions previously untreatable with anything but medication.
This is really a new technology in the healing arts profession of acupuncture in this country even though it has been used in different parts of the world for over twenty years. Remember, acupuncture was practiced in just about every other modern country for hundreds of years before our medical “experts” would accept it as a useful tool of medicine. The same scenario has been played out with the laser.
Even the practices of medicine, Dentistry and Podiatry are changing their protocols for treatment as the lasers become more powerful and accurate with their light message. Even though acupuncture is virtually painless many cannot relax while the treatment is being administered because of the ‘fear factor’, with the advent of the laser acupuncture can now be administered without concern for use needles in many cases.
Sinusitis is probably one of the most persistent problems because of allergy and environmental complications. Traditional acupuncture has been very helpful for sinus cases but now it is found that laser therapy may be even more helpful. The research is now coming in on many conditions.
The laser can be a great leap forward for the acupuncturist, states Physiatrist, David P. Sniezek, M.D. of Fairfax, Virginia, in a recent conversation with the author concerning acupuncture education. Dr. Sniezek works with the Medical Acupuncture Journal and has been doing acupuncture over twenty years in his practice.
However, caution needs to prevail until the doctor decides what the laser will be used for in the office because there are so many variables that present themselves when the patient tells of their case complications.
In summation, the laser is a welcome technology in this 21st century but the ancient practice of acupuncture will use it as a tool to be considered in certain cases not as a miracle ‘cure all’ for every person’s ailment. Acupuncture theory and philosophy has worked just fine for thousands of years the laser can now be added to the armamentarium that the doctors now utilize with the practice of Oriental Medicine.
1) Ling G. Life at the Cell and Below - Cell Level. New York, NY: Pacific Press; 2001:234-246.
2) Turner, J and Hode, L. Laser Therapy.Grangesbert, Sweden: Prima Books; 2002:362.
3) Simunovic, Z. Lasers in Medicine and Dentistry Basic Science and Up-To-Date Clinical Application of Energy Level Laser Therapy, Zlatko, Switzerland; 2000.
4) Baxter, D. Therapeutic Lasers Theory and Practice, Harcourt Publishers, Ltd., London; 1999.
5) Rindge, D. Laser Acupuncture Column, Acupuncture Today August 2004, http://www.acupuncturetoday.com
6) >White, JJ and Kaesberg-White, K Laser Therapy and Pain Relief, Dynamic Chiropractic, Vol.12, 21, 1994.
7) Ohshiro, T. and Calderhead, R. Low Level Laser Therapy A Practical Introduction, John Wiley & Sons Ltd.,Chichester, UK; 1988.
8) Branco K. and Naeser MA, J Altern Complement Med Feb; 5(1):5-26. Acupuncture Healthcare Services, Westport, MA; 1999.