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Laser Therapy for Aches and Pains

There are many natural therapies that are available to help the dog suffering from various musculoskeletal problems. These include herbal therapies, homeopathics, acupuncture, chiropractic, massage, and magnetic therapy. A new form of therapy that also can be extremely helpful if your pet is suffering from various aches and pains is laser therapy.

Laser therapy, more correctly referred to as “Low Level Laser Light Therapy”, is rapidly being assimilated into the treatment regimens used by holistic veterinarians to help pets with a variety of problems. While laser therapy can be used to assist pets and healing from almost any medical condition, it is most commonly employed for dogs with diseases of the musculoskeletal system (sprains and strains, hip dysplasia, shoulder dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, cruciate ligament injuries, etc.) and nervous system (disc disease, lumbosacral disease, and even epilepsy.)

How exactly does laser therapy assist healing? As is true with many natural therapies, there are several proposed therapeutic mechanisms involved. The most commonly accepted mechanism of action involves individual cells and light emission. Cells in the body emit and absorb light (biophotons;) these emissions and absorptions of light play key roles in regulating various cellular activities, including activation of cell division, cell-to-cell communication, cell activation, and cell migration, all of which are essential in wound healing. Optimal results occur when the laser light is of low intensity (meaning that tissue is not heated, unlike the situation with lasers of different intensity use for surgery,) only lasts for a short amount of time, and pulses on and off rather than remaining static.

The end result of the biological interactions between the laser and the cells is healing. The exact nature of the healing depends upon the condition being treated. For example, with musculoskeletal problems, healing results as a reduction of inflammation and pain.

As is true with all natural therapies, it's important to understand that laser therapy by itself is usually not the sole form of therapy. Remember that the ultimate goal is true healing and anything which allows us to reach that goal should be used. In my practice, laser therapy is only one aspect of healing. It is combined with other therapies (herbs, homeopathic, nutritional supplements, etc.) to offer that that the best chance of healing.

My general protocol is to use a number of therapies to allow healing, and to use laser therapy several times per week for 3 to 4 weeks initially, and then use the laser as needed to maintain healing while the pet continues its supplement regimen.

One word of caution should be noted: currently there are several manufacturers trying to enter the veterinary market. These manufacturers make lasers that have not been thoroughly tested or approved by the FDA. Because laser therapy is considered an “alternative” treatment, I would recommend only having it done by a holistic veterinarian who has experience in a number of “alternative” therapies. After researching the various lasers available for treating people and pets, I chose one made by Erchonia due to the large amount of research showing the benefits of therapy using their particular laser.

Here are two cases I recently treated using laser therapy. Princess is a four year old female dachshund who experienced an episode of intervertebral disc disease in her lower back. Steroids and muscle relaxants were prescribed by her conventional veterinarian to immediately relieve pain and inflammation. Her owner sought my care in an attempt to decrease and ultimately stop these medications and yet allow Princess to return to a normal lifestyle. In addition to prescribing supplements for a maintenance protocol, I also treated Princess twice-weekly for three weeks with laser therapy. Rather than using traditional acupuncture, applying laser therapy rather than needles to acupuncture points was successful in quickly healing Princess and easier to do as Princess did not like to sit still during her visits! Each treatment lasted approximately 2 minutes, was non-painful, and was done while Princess sought comfort in her owner's arms.

The second case I recently treated using laser therapy involves a Natasha, a middle-aged Rottweiler who suffered lameness associated with a mild tear in her right cranial cruciate ligament. Various conventional anti-inflammatory medications did not improve her limping, and her veterinarian strongly recommended surgery. Because Natasha’s owner wanted to avoid surgery if possible, she sought my care. While surgery is necessary for some dogs with cruciate ligament injuries, in my practice I have found success in many of these patients by using a variety of natural remedies, thus avoiding the expensive surgery and required significant postoperative rehabilitation and physical therapy. In Natasha’s case, I prescribed anti-inflammatory herbs, homeopathic, and joint supplements containing glucosamine and hyaluronic acid. Natasha was also treated with weekly laser therapy applied to her knee. Currently, she is healing well, her lameness is decreasing, and it appears that she will be able to heal without the need for surgery. My plan is to continue her supplement regimen indefinitely, and use laser therapy as needed to maintain healing of her damaged ligaments.

Laser therapy is not a cure-all for every pet. It is another natural therapy that has proven to be successful in both people and pets afflicted with many medical problems. It is inexpensive, painless, and induces healing naturally rather than simply hiding symptoms as is often the case with conventional medications.

 

Q&A

Dear Dr. Shawn:
"I've heard a lot about using lasers to help pets with arthritis. Do you think this therapy might help by dog Cheers? He is a 10 year old lab and my husband and I prefer not to give him drugs unless absolutely necessary."

Answer:
"There are many natural therapies available to help your pet. One such therapy that is quite popular with holistic veterinarians and pet owners is the use of low-level laser therapy. While laser therapy can offer therapeutic benefits for many problems, it is not a cure-all. That said, it certainly may be helpful for Cheers and is preferred to conventional medications.

Here are some points to keep in mind when considering laser therapy.

  • As is true with any natural therapy, lasers can be helpful for pets with a number of medical disorders. Commonly, they are used to help pets with disorders of the nervous system (such as intervertebral disk disease) and musculoskeletal system (arthritis, hip dysplasia, strains and sprains, assisting in fracture healing, etc.)
  • Lasers are not usually used as a sole therapy but an adjunctive therapy along with other natural therapies such as herbs, nutritional supplements, and homeopathics.
  • Laser therapy is easy to administer to your pet, usually taking only 2 to 3 minutes per treatment.
  • When properly used, laser therapy is considered to be free of side effects.
  • Laser therapy is not painful for your pet.
  • Laser therapy is very cost-effective per treatment.
  • There are several companies that provide lasers to veterinarians, and all lasers are not created equal. When possible, pet owners should ask their veterinarians if the laser being used on their pet has shown effectiveness in research trials or based upon clinical experience, and ideally the laser should be FDA approved to ensure effectiveness and safety.
  • The number of treatments will vary based upon the pet condition. In my practice, I have found the twice-weekly treatments for a minimum of four weeks is usually effective. After this initial series of treatments, laser therapy is done on an as needed basis to keep the pet healthy and disease-free."

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