When it comes to laser therapy, it’s important to know where the science is aligned. The research does not come from just one organization, one university or one institution. And of course, laser research is not limited to just medical uses. Lasers have become integral in our everyday life from communication and entertainment to industrial and even military applications. These scientific concepts add even more to the knowledge base. They help us to improve the safety and the efficiency of laser energy as well as the general knowledge of how laser radiation interacts with substrates, including living tissue.
In the medical arena, there are over 4000 studies available related just to laser/light therapy. Hundreds more are produced every year and come from many sources. Much of the research is sponsored by and/or supported by laser manufacturers. So, how do you know what research is credible? How do you sift thru and weed out what’s real and what may be skewed or even just innovative marketing? To answer these questions, we’ll highlight the many institutions that are actively researching laser therapy.
There is a World Association of Laser Therapy (WALT) and a North American Association of Laser Therapy (NAALT). The NAALT has recently changed its name to better align with the proper term for laser therapy which is ‘photobiomodulation’ (PBM). Their new name is North American Association for photobiomoduLation Therapy (NAALT). Photobiomodulation has been officially added to the Medical Subjects Heading (MeSH) of the National Library of Medicine’s controlled vocabulary thesaurus. The consensus is that the new terminology will help distinguish the uniqueness of this modality and also promote better organization of the literature and future studies. Both associations are very dedicated to the science behind laser therapy. In addition, there are other societies that dedicate time to researching laser therapy. One such group is the American Society of Laser Medicine and Surgery (ASLMS).
Universities and Government
Naturally, there is plenty of research carried out in universities. There are some top-level researchers at Harvard, Buffalo University, Wake Forest, University of Bristol, and many other universities. The NIH in the UK has funded and/or supported multiple PBM studies. The World Health Organization (WHO), the Multinational Association for Supportive Cancer Care (MASSC), the American Physical Therapy Association, the International Association for the Study of Pain, the International Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology and many other national and international organizations have evaluated and recommended PBM. This is because the potential that laser therapy holds on a wide range of conditions is being recognized more and more. And this is especially true for many chronic inflammatory and painful syndromes for which current options are not very successful. It is also becoming more of an imperative as it can help mitigate the escalating opioid crisis. Some areas of strong interest include neuropathy, traumatic brain injury, oral mucositis, temporomandibular disorders, plantar fasciitis, chronic neck and back pain and other myofascial pain syndromes and even macular degeneration. This is why there are so many very prominent doctors, dentists, PhDs, and other independent researchers looking into the mechanisms and clinical applications of PBM.
There are several journals focused on PBM research. ‘Photomedicine and Laser Surgery’ and ‘BioPhotonics’ are specifically focused on research regarding laser use for medicine and/or general biologic benefits. PBM articles also appear regularly in other main-stream veterinary and human medical journals: The American College of Veterinary Surgeons journal, The Foot and Ankle Journal, Frontiers in Neurology, Gynecologic Oncology, Journal of Biomedical Optics, Journal of Tissue Healing and Regenerative Medicine, eBio Medicine, International Journal of Pediatric Dentistry, Journal f Athletic Training, and more.
Of course, the skeptics have their own agenda. They assume that those focused on laser therapy research will only publish the positive studies. But understanding laser therapy includes understanding its limitations or even the potential negative effects. Even though much of the research is initiated by manufacturers, the negative studies do get published. And, as illustrated above, much of the research is done by unbiased, independent organizations. It is important to point out, though, that when applied properly, over 90% of the studies show very promising positive benefits. This is why the manufacturers, the researchers, physicians, and patients are eagerly awaiting that moment of mainstream acceptance and use of PBM as we continue to gain more insight.