The development of low-level laser therapy (LLLT) for medical use, known today as photobiomodulation, began in 1967 as a therapy mainly for wound healing and pain relief. Since then its use has broadened to include diseases such as stroke, myocardial infarction, and degenerative or traumatic brain disorders.
Each year 1.4 million people in the U.S. suffer Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs). The World Health Organization (WHO) has projected that by 2020, road traffic accidents as a major cause of TBI will be the third leading cause of disease and disablement throughout the world.
Recent greater awareness of TBI after concussion from contact sports and after blast injury in military conflicts has caused researchers to look for a better way to treat this debilitating condition than drugs or surgery.
Low Level Laser Therapy Begins as an Accident
The discovery of lasers for medical use began by accident. In 1967, Endre Mester in lab experiments noticed the ability of the helium-neon (HeNe) laser, discovered in 1961, to increase hair growth and stimulate wound healing in mice. Since then, the use of low-powered lasers, as opposed to high-powered lasers that can destroy tissue, has steadily increased to areas of medical practice that require healing, prevention of tissue death, pain relief, and reduction of inflammation.
LLLT Use Expands to Include Brain Injuries
Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT), now called photobiomodulation (PBM), was initially studied primarily for stimulation of wound healing and reduction of pain and inflammation in conditions such as tendonitis, neck pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Margaret Naser and collaborators testing PBM in human subjects who had suffered TBI in the past discovered that, after treatment, those patients were better able to concentrate and remember events and experienced improved sleep, fewer headaches, and fewer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, and the effects were long-lasting. There is even the possibility that PBM could be used for improvement in memory and concentration in normal healthy people.
How Does Photobiomodulation Work?
Photobiomodulation brings oxygen to the area in a cell responsible for growth and repair. When applied to acupuncture points located on the scalp, it stimulates healing and repair in tissue that has been injured, is degenerating, or is at risk of dying.
PBM for brain disorders, whether it be an office or clinic based procedure or a home-use based device, may become one of the most important medical applications of light therapy in the coming years and decades.