Laser Therapy and Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia, also called muscular rheumatism or musculoskeletal pain syndrome, is a chronic disorder of the muscles and other body tissue. A person suffering from fibromyalgia typically experiences muscle pain, fatigue, sleeping problems and many tender points on the body. The pain from this disorder can make everyday activities difficult and seriously disrupt a person’s life. Though scientists believe that injury, trauma, infection, or a chemical imbalance may contribute to fibromyalgia, the cause for this autoimmune disorder is unknown.
Allopathic treatments for managing the pain of fibromyalgia include taking low doses of tricyclic antidepressants, drugs ordinarily used to treat depression. These drugs may work by reducing or blocking the re-uptake of serotonin, the neurotransmitters that affect mood. Cortisone medication can be injected directly into the site of tender tissue to relieve pain or spasms.
Many people with fibromyalgia are looking for less invasive treatments or to avoid drug interactions and side effects. Laser therapy is a fast-growing treatment option and has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for short-term pain management. Several scientific studies have found this treatment to be safe and effective for treating pain, fatigue and other symptoms of fibromyalgia.
What is Laser Therapy?
Laser therapy, also called cold laser therapy or low level laser therapy (LLLT), involves the application of low-intensity lasers to specific areas of the body to stimulate endorphins. These endorphins, naturally present in the brain and adrenal glands, help block transmission of pain signals to the brain and relax the patient. Laser therapy is a non-invasive alternative to needle acupuncture and is said to excite energy between acupoints in much the same way.
When low level lasers are applied directly to tender points, the light energy emitted can accelerate cell growth. This growth promotes healing in painful, damaged tissue. Lasers stimulate blood and lymph circulation, as well as improve nerve function in these areas. Laser therapy is also used to treat other types of chronic or acute pain, especially pain that occurs with conditions such as arthritis, tendinitis, and migraines.
What Happens at a Laser Therapy Treatment Session?
Although laser therapy treatments may vary, the following methods seem to apply to most laser therapy facilities. At a typical session, a practitioner applies a low-intensity or cold laser directly to the skin at certain points of the body. In therapy sessions for conditions like chronic pain, lasers are applied directly to the affected area.
A practitioner will lightly press the laser to tender areas. The application of lasers on the skin emits photons--the carriers of electromagnetic energy in light--directly into body tissue at the cellular level. These photons are then absorbed into cells, where physiological changes can occur. The goal of these changes is to relax the patient, restore a peaceful balance and relieve pain.
A session generally lasts between 10 and 20 minutes, but can vary with the specific conditions being treated. Several treatments may be necessary to relieve the acute pain of fibromyalgia. Laser therapy is not a cure for this disorder—however, its success in the temporary relief of pain has been shown in numerous studies.
Laser therapy is non-invasive and pain-free. A person undergoing laser therapy might feel a tingling or slight burning sensation on the skin, but practitioners say this is normal. The low intensity lasers used in laser therapy do not produce thermal energy and cannot burn the skin. Safety glasses can be worn to protect the eyes from laser light.
Is Laser Therapy Safe?
The FDA has approved the use of low level lasers for temporary relief of chronic or acute pain, including the pain associated with fibromyalgia. Several studies have shown this treatment to be an effective alternative to allopathic methods with few, if any, side effects. One study showed significant improvements in patients with fibromyalgia with daily laser treatments for two weeks. At the end of the study, those who underwent laser therapy reported having less pain, fatigue, morning stiffness, and depression.
You should discuss all alternative or complementary treatments with your physician prior to beginning treatment. A doctor can help you decide which treatments are right for you, and determine their safety based on your individual medical condition. People with certain eye or skin conditions should avoid laser therapy.
Where Can I Find Laser Therapy Treatments?
Some chiropractic practices, physical therapy facilities, and alternative medicine centers offer laser therapy treatments. Check local facilities to find skilled laser therapy practitioners near you.