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The Sport Digest - ISSN: 1558-6448

The Healing Nature of Light


Light has been used for healing for many centuries, starting with the Greeks and Romans who recognized the positive effects of sunlight. Ancient Greek physician, Hippocrates even had patients recuperate in roofless buildings where they could soak up the rays of the Sun. Nils Finsen won the Nobel Prize in 1903 for “Physiology of Medicine” for his treatments of Lupus and Tuberculosis patients with ultraviolet light. And just recently modern-day scientists have come to understand more about the nature of light and its restorative capacity, and medical researchers have been able to develop techniques and devices that use light as an integral element of the healing process.

What we usually refer to as “light” is the visible part of the spectrum of electromagnetic radiation. What we call light is that range of colors that comprise an ordinary rainbow. Conventional light has a thermal effect; it warms up the skin. Ultraviolet light is the part of the spectrum that causes a tanning of one’s skin; infrared light is used as a heat source.

Low-level laser light is compressed light of a wavelength from an extremely narrow spectrum of electromagnetic radiation. It differs significantly 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-stimulating light energy to the body’s cells, which the cells then convert into chemical energy to promote natural healing and pain relief.

In its’ various formats, phototherapy as a practice area in Alternative & Complementary Medicine is gathering substantial attention from serious research scientists, practitioners and the general public.

Older devices used a continuous wave laser, pre-set pulse time(s) or, in one case, a variable frequency of extremely limited range in full, one-cycle increments. Present research and newer technology permit the therapy technician to adjust laser pulses in a range from .1hz to 1.5 Mhz pulses per second (0.1hz to 1,500,000hz) for effective therapy in less time and over a lesser number of treatments.


Photonic energy is absorbed by 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, and cell growth.

Low-level light therapy uses cold laser light energy and/or LEDs to direct bio-stimulating light energy to the body’s cells without injuring or damaging them in any way. Low-level lasers supply energy to the body in the form of non-thermal photons of light. The energy range of low level laser light lies between 1 and 5mW (milli-watts), while for surgical lasers, the energy range lies between 3000 and 10000mW. These pulsed LLLT sources deliver photons, the smallest electromagnetic package that exists in nature to the tissues in the area of involvement of the injury.

When pulsed at specific rates the therapy device optimizes the immune responses of the tissues. This has both anti-inflammatory and immuno-stimulative 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.

LLLT promotes healing in many conditions through increase of ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate) levels and activation of enzymatic pathways in the targeted cells.

Through the application of light to injuries or wounds, soft tissue healing rate and pain relief are accomplished. Furthermore, 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. 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.


When studying the biological effects of LLLT on cells and tissue, the word bio-modulation is often used to describe LLLT’s effects. This refers to the stimulation of cells and tissue by LLLT to bring them to their most normal and natural state. The goal in bio-modulation is to stimulate cell function without exceeding the cell’s or tissue’s ability to function properly. The effect of photo-bio-stimulation on animal cells is analogous to photosynthesis in plant cells whereby a chain of chemical reactions is set in motion. In human tissue the resulting photochemical reaction produces an increase in the cellular metabolism rate, expediting cell repair and stimulation of the immune, lymphatic and vascular systems. The net result, observed in clinical trials to date, is apparent reduction in pain, inflammation, edema and an overall reduction in healing time.


Numerous biological processes that take place in treated tissue have been successfully demonstrated with the use of therapeutic LLLT. Significant enhancement of ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate) has been recorded. is one of the cardinal absorbents of the resting living state of the cell and without it the cell cannot maintain life!1 Therapeutic LLLT increases ATP production in the mitochondria 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 all energy metabolism, aerobic as well as anaerobic. Further, we know that in muscles, all ATP is absorbed in myosin. This is one key that helps us to understand how specific light sources are able to significantly reset muscle clinically in a very short period of time. Further science is necessary to understand in greater scope this most dramatic and helpful modality of the new century.

This helps us to understand the complex mechanism of LLLT ability to reset musculature, returning its function to normal in a very short period of time. This phenomenon has created a new paradigm for the use of LLLT in the patient with chronic pain and can have a profound, efficient and immediate affect on the recipient of the treatment. Significant increase of ATP levels at the myosin can have a profound effect on the modulation of muscle. Additionally we must consider that the essence of lambda nu (energy emitted from the laser) may reset the muscle as well.

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.2 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 LLLT and yet cause no adverse effects. Pain management professionals must understand and accept this exciting new modality.


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Connective tissue injuries, such as tendon rupture and ligament sprains, are common. Unlike most soft tissues that require 7-10 days to heal, primary healing of tendons and other dense connective tissues take as much as 6 - 8 weeks during which they are inevitably protected in immobilization casts to avoid re-injury. Such long periods of immobilization impair functional rehabilitation and predispose a multitude of complications that could be minimized if healing is quickened and the duration of cast immobilization reduced.

The absorption spectrum of human fibroblast mono-layers showed several absorption peaks, among them one at a wavelength of 630nm. Cultures of these fibroblasts were subjected to He-Ne laser (632.8nm) irradiation of various energy doses by varying power density and exposure time. On three consecutive days the cell mono-layers were irradiated for periods between 0.5 and 10min. Laser power varied from 0.55 to 5.98mW. Both cell number and collagen type I production were determined for each irradiation condition within one experiment. Results show that laser power below 2.91mW could enhance cell proliferation (as determined by cell counting), whereas higher laser power (5.98mW) had no effect. Stimulatory effects were most pronounced at irradiation times between 0.5 and 2min.

Collagen type I production (as determined by an ELISA) was affected in the opposite direction to cell proliferation: when the cell proliferation was increased, collagen type I production was decreased. From these experiments it is clear that exposure time and power density determine the effects of LLLT irradiation. Both stimulation and inhibition of the observed cell properties can be obtained with the same light source on the same cells.


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