Q: “What is Laser Therapy and How Does it Work?” – Heather K.

Jennifer L. Wright, DVM, IVCA

A: Three Oaks Equine Veterinary Services uses a Super Pulsed, Low Level (Cold) Laser device called the MR4 ActiVet.  The laser itself is a handheld device, about the size of a flashlight, which emits non-thermal (cold) photons of light.  This light passes through the skin layers to non-invasively alleviate pain, reduce inflammation and accelerate healing and recovery from a wide range of acute and chronic clinical conditions.  Additionally, this device is equipped with blue light technology which is invaluable in treating infections, even those caused by MRSA!  This therapy is an FDA-cleared modality that is safe, painless and fast.  Laser therapy utilizes the body’s own healing powers by stimulating cellular activity.

Laser therapy, which is really simply “light therapy,” has been used for ages.  Light therapy has been used since Greek times to treat a myriad of disorders and Albert Einstein first proposed laser (which is an acronym for “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation”) theory in 1917.  It wasn’t until the 1960’s that an actual laser was built and tested by Dr. Endre Mester in Budapest, Hungary.  Dr. Mester aimed to determine if his ‘ray of light’ was carcinogenic.  Contrary to his expectations, his studies showed that the laser light stimulated hair regrowth!  Around the same time, our astronauts were circling the Earth engaging in space exploration.  They unfortunately discovered that even the smallest of paper cuts would not heal in outer space until they returned to Earth.  UNLESS they were one of the astronauts located on one of the space stations that used the “special blue and red lights” to grow plants in outer space.  Those astronaut’s wounds healed quickly every time.  NASA and the US Navy became interested in the wound healing benefits seemingly imposed by the space station’s plant growing lights and boom!  Research into the beneficial effects of light therapy was born!

In Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT), the lights used are neither ablating (surgical cutting lasers) nor heat generating.  (The MR4 ActiVet is a Class IM laser which means that is it eye-safe under all operating conditions.  In fact, this laser can be emitted directly into the eye of your horse to treat uveitis!)  The light’s cellular actions on the body is more akin to photosynthesis in plants.  The light source is placed near or in contact with the skin, allowing the light energy (photons) to penetrate tissue where it interacts with the mitochondria of cells to alter the proteins that are made within the cells.  The types of proteins that are created depend on the strength and spectrum of light that is emitted from the laser, so the operator can control whether the cellular mitochondria produce healing proteins, anti-inflammatory proteins, pain killing proteins, etc.  Mitochondria control the life cycle of the cell by creating energy, but in doing so creates oxidative stress through free radical formation.  In other words, we “rust and can’t take out the garbage” as our cells become damaged or aged.  Laser therapy naturally induces physiological reactions in diseased and damaged tissues to accelerate wound healing and tissue regeneration, increase circulation, reduce acute inflammation, reduce acute and chronic pain and help restore normal cellular function.  Is essence, the laser works by stimulating the body’s own “take out the garbage and repair” mechanisms!  The process by which laser light affects the cellular mechanics of the body is termed “Photobiomodulation.”

The potential applications for LLLT are numerous and endless…to accelerate the rehabilitation and healing of many common lameness or injuries, maintain the peak performance of any equine athlete, optimize wound healing, or management of a chronic painful condition to name a few.  Any part of the body that has joints, connective tissues, neuronal tissues, bone, teeth, skin, muscles or vasculature will benefit from photobiomodulation!  Ask your veterinarian how your horse would benefit from laser therapy!


Dr. Wright performing Super Pulsed Low Level Laser Therapy.

Dr. Wright performing Super Pulsed Low Level Laser Therapy.