Class IV laser therapy is one of the fastest growing modalities in the veterinary industry. A Jack of many trades, laser therapy can treat inflammation, reduce pain, and speed up the healing process. The technology is so versatile that 80% of veterinary patients could benefit from laser therapy.
A word of caution, a small mistake when calibrating or administering Class IV laser therapy could reduce the efficacy of treatment, or in extreme cases, injure the patient. You’ll need guidance to help you adjust the light intensity, wavelength, and pulse frequencies based on the unique characteristics of each patient and condition.
Let’s take a look at three common problems veterinarians encounter when administering laser therapy – and how to avoid them:
- Using the Wrong Laser Parameters
- Over-Stimulating Cancerous Cells
- Causing an Intra-Articular or Intramuscular Injection Site to Swell
- NOT using the laser enough
Most animal injuries involve multiple tissue-types. For example, a shoulder wound could affect cartilage, bones, soft tissue, and connective tissue. Each of these tissue-types responds differently to varying light wavelengths, intensities, and pulse frequencies. Using the wrong parameters could reduce the efficacy of laser therapy and cause scar tissue to develop, which can contribute to new medical complications.
The laser itself should help protect from this with an intuitive interface where the user simply enters the details about the patient such as the animal’s size, color, and medical condition. From there it should automatically adjust the laser’s parameters and offer helpful advice tailored to that treatment.
Over-Stimulating Cancerous Cells
Laser therapy brings more nutrients to afflicted cells and helps them metabolize those nutrients into energy more efficiently. In most situations, these processes are beneficial because they reduce pain and inflammation while speeding up recovery time. However, laser therapy is not without its contradictions.
For example, administering laser therapy to cancerous cells can actually stimulate tumor growth because the light cannot distinguish between cancerous and healthy cells. To prevent this, technicians should know when laser therapy should and should not be used during cancer treatments.
There are certain stages of cancer treatment when laser therapy is beneficial. For instance, after a tumor has been surgically removed, laser therapy can reduce pain and speed up the recovery time. Also, lasers may improve the efficacy of chemotherapy. There is little vasculature to the center of large tumors, which inhibits the delivery of chemotherapy drugs. Class IV lasers can stimulate blood flow, thus increasing cytotoxicity when used in conjunction with chemotherapy on large tumors.
Causing an Intra-Articular or Intramuscular Injection Site to Swell
Veterinarians must be cautious when administering laser therapy after steroid or NSAID injections. Certain steroids and NSAIDs are photosensitive, so applying laser therapy over an intra-articular or intramuscular injection site could cause painful swelling and tenderness. It is best to wait until the half-life of the drug has passed, which is typically one week to 10 days.
NOT Using the Laser
The veterinary clinic is a busy place with lots of moving pieces. Different members of the team have various levels of exposure to, knowledge of, experience with, and bias for/against each of the treatment options available to help their patients. The therapy laser can easily get lost in this whirlwind and become a dust collector. This would be a huge mistake both for the practice as well as its patients.
Another unfortunate obstacle is the inclination for some people to lose confidence in the efficacy of treatments after a handful of patients do not respond right away. The laser is not a magic flashlight and there are often complexities in pathology in certain animals that go undiagnosed as well as a range of cooperation and compliance at home when the pets leave your care. With time and appropriate diagnosis, laser therapy WILL be an effective therapy, whether adjunct or stand-alone.
The more you use the laser, the more familiar you’ll be come with the expectations and the therapeutic power of this modality. Stay the course. You’ll be happy you did.
Laser therapy is arguably the most impactful veterinary breakthrough of the last decade. However, it is critical that clinics learn (and are continually trained on) how to administer laser therapy properly, or they risk reducing the efficacy of treatment.