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Laser therapy is the application of light energy to areas of the body to stimulate healing. This light–tissue interaction is called photobiomodulation. In the past, therapeutic laser was often referred to as “low-level” or “cold” laser (as opposed to a surgical or “hot” laser).
“Laser”—an acronym for "light amplification of stimulated emission of radiation"—refers to a unit that emits focused, penetrating light beams in three forms:
Coherence and collimation give a laser penetrating power to a restricted area so that nearby tissues are unaffected.
Lasers are classified by the FDA based on the average power produced by the laser and therefore is related to their safety (especially as it relates to potential for eye damage), with five classes currently recognized:
Therapeutic lasers use light waves of a specific wavelength to cause photobiomodulation, or the alteration of cellular and tissue physiology. Light absorbed by cellular components stimulates electrons and activates cells to promote growth, proliferation, migration, and repair.
The type and depth of tissue that responds to laser therapy depends on the wavelength of the light that is delivered. Most therapeutic lasers use red or near-infrared light, which has a wavelength of 600–1070 nanometers, although units with green, blue, and violet light, which have lower wavelengths, are becoming more popular. Laser beams of lower wavelengths are absorbed by superficial tissue, such as the skin, whereas beams of higher wavelengths penetrate deeper to muscles and bones.
Laser therapy helps tissue repair by causing the following:
The main clinical benefits of laser include decreased inflammation, decreased pain, and improved wound healing.
Laser therapy is used for many veterinary medical conditions, including:
Your horse can be ridden prior to the treatment but it is best they not be worked hard. The area being treated must be clean and dry at the time of the appointment as dirt or water on the skin will absorb the laser light and prevent it from reaching the target tissue thus reducing efficacy.
Laser therapy appointments are typically brief taking only 10-15 minutes. Since we have a Class IV laser the energy output is high and thus treatment times are short. During a treatment session, the handheld laser wand is slowly moved back and forth over the damaged tissue, producing a warm, pleasant sensation that most horses enjoy and find relaxing.
As with other therapies the answer to this question is dependent on the patient, the severity of the problem and whether it is acute or chronic. Ultimately the appropriate treatment protocol will come from a discussion of the history and assessment of the horse. However a typical treatment protocol is to start with 3 treatments per week for the first 2 weeks then decreasing to twice a week for 2 weeks then once a week for 2 weeks. Maintenance sessions typically range from once a week to once a month.