Benefits of Low Level Laser Therapy

Clinical and experimental studies have provided evidence that lasers can increase nerve function, reduce the formation of wounds, increase the metabolic activity of neurons, and enhance myelin production (Bagis et al., 2002). The non-invasive nature of laser photo therapy enables treatment without surgical intervention. Low level laser therapy began to be used in the regeneration and functional recuperation process of peripheral nerves in the 1970s. 

Many doctors dismiss cold laser therapy as quackery, which is one of the reasons I have used it so much on myself, family, and friends before I used it on animals that can’t give me verbal feedback. One friend said it did little for her carpal tunnel pain, and went ahead and had surgery. Everyone else reported moderate to complete relief.  On myself, it sometimes takes 7-10 sessions for pain to be gone from an injury that has caused chronic pain.

Low Level laser therapy has been used for at least 30 years for pain reduction and tissue repair. There is strong evidence it works and new research is constantly being conducted to refine it. 

It works by blocking pain fibers and slowing the transmission of pain messages. This pain blockade allows for a reduction in inflammation and for tissue regeneration. 

In one way, LLLT acts like a local anesthetic and reduces pain signals going to the brain. After several treatments the nerves in the affected area become less irritable and pain lessens, allowing muscles to relax and healing to take place.

While some conditions are curable, some need ongoing maintenance and people need to return for a treatment every three months. While not everyone responds to the cold laser,  it is used to treat a variety of conditions including neck and back pain, acute and chronic pain, migraine, wounds, arthritic pain, fibromyalgia and lymphedema.

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Extend The Career of Your Equine Athlete

Many riders tell me their horse feels off when they first get on, but works out of it. In some cases, this could be the sign of something serious needing further investigation.  Soreness can disappear as the horse warms up, and then reappear a few hours after the work out. The reason is that soft tissue injuries almost always cause more pain when they are cold, because that is when the muscles are tightest. As the muscles warm up, they stretch out and send fewer pain signals.  After the work out, all the soft tissue cools down and tightens again, often adding a few more muscle fibers to the tight area. You can see how, over time, this scenario can turn into more pain and escalate into an injury requiring a long lay-up.

Just because an injured area feels better after it warms up doesn’t mean that everything is okay. Stiffness and pain mean something, especially if they create a pattern over time. That is not to say that all muscle soreness is bad. Some aches are inevitable in becoming fit.

Sports massage for your horse can help ease soreness and pinpoint areas that are prone to tightness. Massage is helpful both before and after (after the horse has cooled down; I never massage right after a workout) exercise.

Massage therapy benefits the body in ways that most warm-up routines fail to do. Over time, select muscles may tighten and shorten. This greatly endangers the body, and unfortunately, an athlete is rarely aware of it until after an injury has occurred. A further benefit of regular sessions is that oxygen flow is naturally improved, which creates healthier conditions for muscles, optimizing body tissue. Increasing the flexibility in soft tissue can greatly reduce the incidence of injury.

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Benefits of Myofascial Manipulation

Fascia is still a medical mystery. In October, 2007, more than 100 scientists from around the world convened in Boston, Massachusetts to discuss the latest research on fascia: an enigmatic, gauze-like matrix of connective tissue that envelopes the muscles, surrounds the nerves and swathes the organs in a body-wide-web of fibrous collagen. But the researchers had some unlikely company. Also in attendance, and outnumbering researchers 5:1, was a group of alternative-medicine practitioners with a mutual interest in fascia. United by their fascination with this medically neglected tissue, the two camps comprised the attendees of the first-ever International Fascia Research Congress.

Ida Rolf , the founder of the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration, described her work on organizing the body as this:  Rolfing works on the web-like network of connective tissues, called fascia, to release, realign, and balance the whole body, potentially resolving discomfort, reducing compensations and alleviating pain.”

For decades, anatomical dissections and representations have presented the body as stripped of its fascial tissues, and the majority of physiology textbooks make little mention of it. “Most scientists,” says Wallace Sampson, alternative medicine skeptic and professor emeritus at Stanford University, “even those wary of alternative therapies, admit that the field of fascia research is a field of neglect, and remains sorely under-investigated.”

The basic concepts of myofascial release are these:

1. The body functions as a total biologic unit

2. The body possesses self-healing and self-regulatory mechanisms

3. Structure and function are interrelated, and

4. Abnormal pressure in one part of the body produces abnormal pressures and strains upon other parts of the body.

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New Applications for Cold Laser Therapy

Almost every day, there are new and exciting announcements on ways that low level laser therapy can help keep us and our animals healthy.  The following is from Valerie C. Coffey, Science Writer:

It started with mouse hairs. In 1967, Dr. Endre Mester of Semmelweis Medical University in Budapest, Hungary, recognized that a low-power ruby laser could stimulate faster hair regrowth in mice. Since then, lasers have increasingly become an important instrument in the physician’s toolbox. 

Today, research is advancing toward the use of lasers to diagnose and treat a plethora of conditions. Recent rapid technological developments in lasers have contributed to their safe and effective use in surgical settings, aesthetic treatments, ophthalmology, oncology, cardiology and many other biomedical applications, including veterinary settings. 

Lasers’ efficiency, safety and precision are the drivers behind this growth. In surgical applications, medical lasers are more precise than conventional surgical scalpels, and therefore cause less damage to surrounding tissue. Although systems are expensive and operators of medical lasers require special training, the advantages of reduced pain, bleeding, swelling and scarring are compelling enough to justify their widespread adoption. 

Much current cutting-edge research is focused on biophysical and physiological studies at the molecular and cellular level, and on lasers’ effects on whole organisms. A group at the University of Texas at Arlington, led by assistant professor of physics Dr. Samarendra Mohanty, has used low-power near-IR lasers and crystalline magnetic carbon nanoparticles (CNPs) to perform photothermal delivery of impermeable dyes and plasmids (self-replicating DNA molecules) into live human prostate cancer (PC3) cells (Scientific Reports, doi: 10.1038/srep05106). The noninvasive technique involves directing a CW Ti:sapphire laser at 800 nm toward the cancer cells in the presence of plasmids and CNPs measuring 5-10 nm. The heat causes the CNPs to stretch the cell membranes and increase fluid flow to allow exogenous substances (plasmids, for example, or an agent that kills the cancer) to be delivered.

Laser therapy is one of several emerging medical and veterinary techniques using high-intensity light to stimulate cellular function in tissue, or to shrink and destroy tumors and precancerous growths. Doctors can direct laser therapy on the surface of a body, or use it to reach where conventional surgical techniques can’t, via a flexible fiber optic endoscope inserted through the mouth, nose, colon or vagina.

Photodynamic therapy is another laser therapy approach that activates an applied photosensitive agent that kills only the cancer cells.

Recent medical research theorizes that the mechanism of low-level laser therapy is primarily via the absorption of light within mitochondria, the numerous “power plants” within cells that convert the oxygen and pyruvate from food into cellular energy via adenosine triphosphate (ATP). As it happens, cytochrome C oxidase, a critical protein involved in the regulation of mitochondrial activity, is a photoacceptor of light in the near- to far-IR. At the cellular level, LLLT displaces nitric oxide from the respiratory chain to increase levels of ATP and reactive oxygen species. The deep-tissue application of laser or LED devices in LLLT techniques may work via this mitochondrial mechanism to promote tissue repair, reduce inflammation and induce analgesia, according to James Carroll, medical researcher, and founder and CEO of Thor Photomedicine in Chesham, England

In 2012, researchers at the Institute of Ophthalmology at University College London applied LLLT to eye disease. Researcher Dr. Rana Begum and colleagues found that when the retinas of aged mice were exposed to five 90-s exposures of 670-nm light over 35 hours, key inflammatory markers in the mitochondrial membrane were significantly reduced (Neurobiology of Aging).  The hope is that, someday, the noninvasive approach may help to slow the progression of dry age-related macular degeneration, according to founder and CEO Clark Tedford.

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What is the Secret to Horse Show Success?

The number one cause of injury is overuse: working too much, too fast, too soon, or too often. As riders, it is a huge responsibility to protect your horse from these training errors.  It is tempting to overdo it when there are shows you want to go to, or if you have a young and talented horse. There is a limit to how much training the body can absorb. Rest and recovery are as important as hard work.  Realigning the body with massage therapy is another key to preventing injuries.  Flexibility is an important indicator in the prevention of injuries. The horses I know that avoid injuries and are at the top of the leader board  are the ones who are on a carefully planned fitness program, have superior nutrition, regular body work, are ridden on good footing, and have knowledgeable farriers.

Pain is a warning signal that needs to be listened to. Pain is an important signal that something is about to go very wrong. If you saddle up your horse and he has a strong reaction, pay attention to that. If your horse starts refusing jumps, listen to him. If your horse comes out of the stall very stiff, or is taking longer to warm up, there is discomfort present. If dealt with early, many sources of pain can be alleviated through deep massage. If pain signals are ignored, they will inevitably get worse. Something minor can lead to something very serious, or permanent,  in a muscle, tendon, ligament, or joint. When in doubt, use the cold laser, or have body work done. Needless suffering can very often be avoided.

Once an injury occurs, scar tissue forms as it heals. This tissue is not as elastic as the original and thus is more prone to re-injury. As I keep saying, prevention is the key to a long and successful athletic career.

 

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Cold Laser Works for Skin Conditions

Cold laser, or Low Level Laser Therapy, is an excellent option for treating dermatologic conditions. The most common diseases that benefit from the use of the therapeutic laser are lick granulomas in dogs , burns, ear infections and inflammation (otitis), “hot spots, anal gland rupture (cat and dog)  and ulcers.

Cold lasers are used for pain management and to hasten the healing of wounds.  The laser stimulates an increase in various cellular activities that promote a decrease in inflammation and also stimulate receptors that release pain-relieving substances

There are no known side effects with low level lasers.  The short treatment times (often less than 15 minutes) are well tolerated by pets.  Some conditions require only 1-2 sessions, whereas chronic conditions can benefit from weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly therapy.

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Releasing Trigger Points

Trigger points are tight spots within the muscle (not at the ends or attachments as in stress points) that cause pain, sensitivity, tingling, burning, or weakness.  Trigger point therapy causes the muscle to have a twitch response, which resets and relaxes the muscle. This can be uncomfortable for a moment, but the results are worth it. Reduction or elimination of pain and improved range of motion can be seen and felt immediately.

Another way to release trigger points is through myofascial release. Fascia is connective tissue that surrounds the muscles, blood vessels, and nerves. Fascia has multiple functions. It holds some structures together, providing stability.  It allows others to glide and move freely.

Trigger points can be caused by scar tissue, strain from repetitive movement, bad posture, poor nutrition, or injury. The most effective way to remove trigger points is through manual pressure. When the trigger point is released, the fascia will once again move smoothly over the muscle, pain will be reduced or eliminated, and range of motion will be increased.

Cold laser therapy can also relieve muscle pain caused by trigger points, and improve circulation.

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Trouble With a Canter Lead?

Recently I was called to work on a jumper that was having trouble with lead changes.  When I encounter problems with leads, there are a few spots that I check: triceps in the front leg, the illiacus by the pelvis, the glutes. But those places yielded no clues with this gelding.  I did find a lot of tightness in the muscles of his neck, particularly the brachiocephalicus (the blue muscle in the diagram).

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The horse flinched when I started work on this muscle on both sides of his neck and seemed to have a lot of trouble moving his head to either side.  I asked if the horse was having trouble riding turns and circles, and the owner confirmed that corners had been quite problematic of late.

The brachiocephalicus swings the head and neck from side to side, and also pulls the front leg forward, as it also attaches there. You can see what a long muscle it is. Carrot stretches were almost impossible for this horse. He was literally trapped by the spasms in his neck. I used all the tools in my hands: compression, direct pressure, cross fiber friction, and the horse closed his eyes and starting taking deep breaths. There was great improvement in his flexibility. The rider has reported improvement in his performance in every way: turning, jumping, lead changes, and length of stride.  If your horse is having similar problems, don’t overlook the influence of the brachiocephalicus.

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Is All Pain Bad?

Pain is a valuable and natural tool that notifies us when there is a condition that needs tending to.  Immediately taking or administering (in the case of our animals) painkilling medicine without first reflecting on what message the pain is sending is not useful. The medication will temporarily treat the pain, with side effects, but whatever caused the pain is most likely still there. I prefer a cure to treatment!

Pain is not a disease. Pain is a symptom.

Muscles have two major functions: they contract to create motion, and relax to return to its full length and allow another muscle to pull in the opposite direction.  No other tissue in the body does this.  Muscles move bones that are attached by tendons. To move bones back to their starting points, the muscle that made the movement has to relax so the opposite muscle in the pair to bring the bones back to resting position.

What happens if this dance doesn’t run smoothly? If the first muscle doesn’t fully relax, the bones cannot return to their restful, or healthy postural position. Alignment and balance are then adversely affected. Stiffness and immobility (lameness) gain control of the body, robbing it of strength, stamina, and graceful movement. When the body is balanced (the massage work I do is called body balancing) it is in a state of health.  When postural balance is restored, pain symptoms disappear.

I recently worked on a mare that looked to be in pain in her front end. One leg was twisted so that her hoof pointed in. Her walk looked painful as well. I found an area of very tight muscles in one shoulder (I have no idea how they got like that. This was my first meeting with her.) It did not take long for her whole posture to change. Her leg starting to turn until it was fairly straight. At the end of her bodywork session I asked to see her walk, and she just strutted out of the barn. We were all smiles, and once again I was elated to see an animal relieved of pain just by re-balancing some tight muscles.  A week later I heard from the owner that the mare is moving well.

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Trotting Over Poles

Article written by Natalie Voss:

Horse owners might spend hours improving their horse’s gaits and behavior under saddle with training exercises, but there is still much that we don’t know about the finer points of a horse’s gait. That knowledge gap has made it difficult to analyze the true effectiveness of certain exercises that are a common part of many riders’ routines.

Michigan State University researchers recently conducted a pair of studies to analyze and compare the way a horse’s legs and joints move during the “swing” phase when the leg is carried forward through the air and the “stance” phase when the hoof is grounded and the leg is bearing weight, both over level ground and over poles.

Study author Hilary Clayton, BVMS, PhD, Dipl. ACVSMR, MRCVS, said many trainers use work with ground poles to improve the horse’s technical skills, while veterinarians and therapists use poles to rehabilitate horses from injury or neurologic conditions.

“Therapists use hoof-eye coordination exercises to rehabilitate horses after neurological diseases,” said Clayton. “These include walking and trotting over, around, or between poles or other obstacles. The challenge for the horse is to see the objects, plan where to put his feet, then use neuromotor control to place the feet correctly.”

Although the practice is tried-and-true for rehabilitation, scientists didn’t know how well or why it works, so they set out to study the specifics. Researchers attached markers to different points on horses’ legs and measured the heights and angles of the joints as the horses trotted over flat ground, over low poles, and over high poles. A series of force plates recorded the weight on each of the horse’s legs as they moved through the series of poles.

Of particular interest:

When horses trotted over the poles, they cleared the poles using increased flexion in all of their limb joints, rather than pushing their whole bodies higher off the ground.
Since horses weren’t pushing their bodies higher in the air to clear poles, the vertical force between the hoof and the ground did not increase, indicating that there was no increase in weight-bearing when horses trotted over poles—a point that might have been considered problematic for horses overcoming some injuries.
Based on the measured angles and forces, it is unlikely that the leg’s soft tissues are stressed more when horses trot over poles versus trotting over flat ground.

Like humans, horses learn about the experience of moving their body over an obstacle like a pole.

“During the first few times trotting over the poles, horses tend to exaggerate their response so they lift their hooves higher than is necessary,” Clayton explained. “As they practice, they learn that they don’t have to exert as much effort and that a lower hoof trajectory is adequate.”

That reduced effort doesn’t mean the exercise loses its benefits over time, however: The amount of flexion the joints undergo is still substantially greater over poles as compared to flat work, so the exercise helps increase joints’ range of motion, especially in horses that are recuperating from lameness, Clayton said.

Clayton recommended trotting over poles as a good therapy for horses being rehabilitated from physical injuries after their movement has become symmetrical at the trot.

She cautioned, however, that the study was performed in horses that were sound at the trot, and the effects of trotting over poles in unsound horses have not been studied. Therefore, do not begin pole work until your veterinarian confirms that the horse has returned to a satisfactory soundness level.

Additionally, although her study did not touch on how the work impacts older horses, Clayton said it would make sense that the exercise’s mental and physical benefits could be good for seniors if they are sound.

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