Laser therapy is arguably the most important veterinary breakthrough of the 21st century. By bringing more nutrients to afflicted cells and helping them metabolize those nutrients into energy more efficiently, laser therapy reduces pain, treats inflammation, and speeds up the healing process. Since they were first introduced in 2006, Class IV veterinary lasers have become more user-friendly, versatile, and effective.
Let’s take a look at five features that should be part of your next Class IV laser therapy system:
- Powerful Output
- Multi-Functional Handpiece and Therapy Heads
- Portable and Battery Operated
- Simple Implementation
- ***Easy-to-Access, Ongoing Training***
Power has implications in treatment time. Output above 8 Watts enables technicians to treat animals of various sizes in a timely manner. Powers above about 12 Watts increase the potential risk, and although they can shorten treatment times by another 20% or so, they require strict diligence in training and constant attention to avoid injury to the patient. While there are lasers in the industry that have higher maximum powers, very few (if any) of them use these in their standard protocol prescriptions for exactly this reason.
While not every protocol calls for 12 watts of power (in NO commercial laser does a cat’s paw protocol call for this high of power), this amount of power is necessary to treat the wide variety of conditions that veterinarians encounter on a daily basis. Lasers with significantly lower maximum power require treatment times on the larger animals/anatomies that are not clinically feasible.
Multi-Functional Handpiece and Therapy Heads
We now know that each tissue-type in the body responds differently to varying light intensities, wavelengths, and pulse frequencies. This adds a level of complexity to laser therapy because most animal injuries involve multiple tissue-types. To optimize the efficacy of each treatment, the most advanced lasers are designed to adjust its parameters automatically based on the animal’s condition, color, size, and other variables.
To effectively deliver the optimum dose to the hip vs. the paw vs. an ear vs. an incision vs. intra-orally, you need a tool that can adapt to the topography of the patient. With this in mind, you’ll want a laser that features different treatment heads. You’ll want some for optimum penetration for those deep-seated musculo-skeletal conditions, another that allows uniform coverage of an incision and its surrounding tissues with no overlap, and for sure another as a tool for the hard-to-reach areas of the inner ear and mouth.
Portable and Battery Operated
To get most use out of your laser, it probably needs to be portable: light and compact. This design enables DVMs and technicians to treat animals in a variety of clinical settings. Normally, there is a dedicated treatment room, but when a surgeon has finished and a technician is cleaning up, the laser can be easily carried in for a quick treatment of the incision. If a water treadmill is employed during rehab, the laser can be used (while kept dry, of course) on the joint while it is being put through its full range of motion. For the geriatric dog that can’t be lifted onto the table, the laser can be brought down to the ground for a comfortable treatment session.
Your techs are not engineers nor are they doctors. So the user interface must be simple and free from ambiguity: odds are the tech doesn’t know (or need to know) the difference between tendonitis and tendonosis. And since these two (as an example) would require the same output parameters, there is no need for that kind of granular distinction in the software. But a light-coated dog and a dark-coated dog do need to be treated differently, and so the user interaction is critical.
Comprehensive, Ongoing Training System
A small mistake when calibrating or administering laser therapy could reduce the efficacy of treatment, and in extreme cases, cause injury. However, most laser manufacturers only provide slapdash training on the day the system is purchased. This is like handing a child the keys to a car, explaining what the buttons and pedals do, and expecting him or her to drive safely.
Instead, you’ll want a platform that offers (either on the device or in some simple-to-access supplemental material) consistent advice on the mechanics of treatment delivery:
- When to treat non-contact vs. in-contact based on whether you are treating an open flesh wound or a deep-seated injury
- When to increase your scanning speed based on the color of the animal and the power settings
- Which types of tissue to target during each phase based on the pulse frequencies in that phase
- When to follow the lymphatic pathways of the stifle when the goal is to remove metabolic waste from an area in the final stages of treatment
You’ll also need continual training on what to expect during the animal’s recovery and which are the next steps in the treatment regimen.
Laser therapy is effective for nearly 80% of veterinary patients, but the efficacy of treatment depends on the hardware and software that power your laser therapy system.