Pain, especially chronic pain and lower back pain, can be difficult to treat. It can be very difficult to treat with something that has no unwanted side effects. Photobiomodulation Therapy (PBMT), also known as Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT) has no side effects. It has been around for over 50 years and studied extensively. To learn how PBMT works please see our educational piece in the Resource Center.
The best pain research studies are double-blind and randomized. This is very important because it ensures a real effect on pain management. There are four key ingredients to good pain studies:
Sometimes pain relief claims are a matter of marketing rather than evidence-based therapeutics. When looking at potential pain relief options it's critical that unbiased research supports all claims. PBMT for pain reduction has been studied for over 50 years, as the first study took place in 1966.
In 2009, scientists analyzed 16 different randomized and double-blind studies which in total looked at 820 patients. They found that PBMT reduces pain immediately after treatment in acute neck pain and up to 22 weeks after completion of treatment in patients with chronic neck pain. The Sham group, those who just had red light shone on them, did not experience any decreases in pain.
Another group of scientists reviewed 15 studies that analyzed PBMT and its effect on lower back pain. The scientists were a little critical about the results because most (but not all) studies were double-blind and randomized. What they found was when PBMT used by itself or in combination with other treatments (like exercise and ibuprofen) a reduction in pain for up to 3 months in the lower back was experienced by the participants with no side effects.
Many independent studies look at how PBMT reduces pain in recreational athletes. We discuss two of them here.
The first study looked at 52 recreational athletes with chronic Achilles tendinopathy symptoms (e.g. achilles tendinitis due to inflammation). All participants were undergoing physical therapy during the study. Physical therapy exercises are usually recommended to treat Achilles' tendinopathy. In a double-blinded manner half of the participants received PBMT and the other a Sham, each participant had 12 sessions over a period of 8 weeks. Participants who had experienced the PBMT treatment noticed a reduction in pain as early as 4 weeks, this continued for another 8 weeks, so that after 12 weeks patients experienced a 45% decrease in pain.
The second double-blind, randomized study looked at 7 patients with pain in both achilles' tendons. The participants who had the PBMT treatment experienced an increase in pain threshold. To asses pain threshold the researchers pressed the participants' tendons with a metal-tipped instrument. The PBMT group could handle 19% more pressure, the Sham could handle none. Additionally, the researchers measured Prostaglandin E2, an index of inflammation and found that the PBMT group had an 80% decrease in the inflammatory marker.
PBMT has been shown to decrease pain associated with arthritis and Neuropathy.
In the osteoarthritis (arthritis of the bone) study 34 men and women with knee arthritis between the ages of 45 and 68 were treated in a double-blind and randomized manner to either PBMT or Sham treatments 3 times a week for 4 weeks while doing conventional physical therapy exercises. The group that received the PBMT treatment experienced an 84% decrease in pain. The Sham group did not experience any decrease in pain. The researchers measured space in the knee joint and found a 50% increase in knee space in the PBMT group and none in the Sham group. Additionally, the researchers measured biochemical markers for inflammation, often associated with arthritis, they found that the PBMT group had a decrease in matrix metallo protienases (which are usually increased in arthritis) by 93% - 97%, depending on which protienase they looked at. The Sham group experienced no decrease in these biochemical markers. This demonstrates that PBMT can lower inflammation.
Neuropathy is a general term for a damaged or diseased nerve, it is often associated with pain. Postherpetic neuralgia presents itself as burning pain experienced by older folks who had shingles but now don't have it. Their rashes have disappeared but their nerves were damaged are the cause of the burning pain sensation.
In the neuropathy study, 20 men and women between the ages of 55 and 82 with postherpetic neuralgia (some had this for up to 8 years) underwent a double-blind study. All the patients in the study tried a wide treatment of pain medication, NSAIDs, benzodiazepines, anti-depressants, nerve stimulation, acupuncture and hypnotherapy, none of these had worked. Those who were on medication continued on it during the study.
Every participant received the Sham and the PBMT treatment, during different phases of the study. The participants were split into 2 groups. Group A received 4 PBMT treatments over 2 weeks, Group B received 4 Sham treatments over 2 weeks. After two weeks the groups switched, Group A received the Sham and Group B received the PBMT. In this double-blind study, neither participant nor researcher knew who was receiving what.
Both groups of patients experienced a 74% reduction in pain severity due to PBMT treatment. So Group A experienced the decrease in the first two weeks, Group B in the second two weeks. 96% of the patients who were on medication, stopped taking their medication after PBMT treatment. The researchers followed up with the patients after 3 and 6 months, and 80% of patients reported a maintained decrease in pain and an improvement of quality of life.
PBMT is advocated for a variety of pain causing diseases, a few examples are below:
For any intervention, it is always critical to do your own research or at least talk to a physician. If you are interested in trying a session with a ReGen Pod light bed in the Evergreen, please book your therapy here. And do connect with us on Facebook and Twitter where we post our updates as well as the latest news in the PBMT world! We encourage anyone interested to come to talk to us and check us out.