Lasers have been around since the early 1960s, but found their way into Healing Foundations just a couple of years ago. You may have seen or experienced laser therapy from any one of the three Healing Foundations acupuncturists, but it's Lisa Alvarez, the clinic's co-founder, that has embraced them the most.
"Acupuncture lasers are a gentle form of light therapy that we can apply directly onto the site of an acupoint, injury or inflammation, but we usually use them in conjunction with, or sometimes instead of needles," Lisa says. "Most often, we apply lasers to the same locations as we would acupuncture needles...the end of someone's toe, for example. That can be a very sensitive area, and some people can't handle that much stimulus as inserting a needle there could be painful. I might opt to use a laser on that point to increase the effectiveness of the needles I've placed elsewhere on the body without overloading the patient."
"Because these types of lasers are a very gentle, they're great to use on patients who are in a weakened state, and obviously, lasers are great to use with young children who might be too fidgety to place needles, or yes— for anyone who has a fear of acupuncture needles altogether."
Endre Mester at the Semmelweis University in Budapest, Hungary is credited as the father of laser therapy. In the mid-1960s he was interested in seeing the effects of lasers on tumor cells implanted in mice. It ends up that the laser didn't get rid of the tumor cells, but it did accelerate the healing of the mice after surgery. Their incisions healed faster than the mice who weren't treated with lasers, and they re-grew their hair faster, too.
Lisa says she's interested in technology and how it can work within the framework of Traditional Chinese Medicine. "Lasers have proven to be really important in all sorts of Western therapies. People might be familiar with the lasers surgeons use for cutting or cauterizing incisions— they are very powerful lasers. We use cold lasers that work at a much lower intensity, similar to those that chiropractors have been using for years. Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT) has been shown to be effective in reducing inflammation and encouraging healing in soft tissue."
"The laser pens we use let us focus on specific points to stimulate a reaction, in a similar way that needles do. We use two lasers; a red one for tonification, or strengthening— and a blue one for sedation, or reducing— but both increase metabolic activity on a cellular level. Just like with acupuncture needles: where and how we apply the laser supports the desired outcome, based on the Chinese Medical diagnosis."
Make no mistake, these lasers are not for play. "No!" Lisa says emphatically and laughing, when asked if the lasers she uses are the same as you can buy at an office supply store for making presentations or playing with your cat. "Yes, medical lasers do make light, but the emit at a very specific frequency proven to stimulate cells, not cats' curiosity."
If you're curious about laser acutherapy, just ask Lisa. Her laser pens are standing by.