Dr. Devis uses LASER therapy on a horse. Photo courtesy Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital
Veterinarians at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital answer your questions about sales and healthcare of Thoroughbred auction yearlings, weanlings, 2-year-olds and breeding stock.
Question: What is LASER therapy?
Dr. Daniel Devis, Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital: The word LASER is actually an acronym of the expression “light amplification by stimulated emissions of radiation.” In other words, a LASER is a machine capable of producing a high and focused energy beam from a light or energy source. When talking about LASER therapy, we talk about the use of light energy that will focus in a specific area of the body to promote healing, repairs soft tissue injuries, and can even have some level of analgesia and anti-inflammatory response.
You should know that laser therapy is controversial and its results can be inconsistent, and of course it does not work instantly. On the contrary, the results from LASER therapy can take time to be noticed. You should always consult your veterinarian before deciding to use this type of treatment in your horse.
There are four different types of LASER levels, also known as “classes.” Each class represents a different amount of energy strength, and each class will tell you how harmful they can be to the naked eye.
LASER Class I can be found within your typical household and office equipment, such as laser printers, CD players, DVD players, etc. They produce a low level of energy that can cause very little damage to the eye.
LASER Class II are also widely used in daily life, and you can find them inside the bar code scanners at the grocery store and are commonly used during presentations as “laser pointers.” This type of laser represents a low risk of damage but it can be harmful if pointed to the eye for prolonged periods of time.
LASER Class III and IV are the ones used within human medicine and veterinary medicine, and the only difference between the two is the amount of power they produce. While Class III will go up to 500 milliwatts, Class IV lasers will go from 500 to thousands of milliwatts. Direct exposure to the eye with one of these lasers can be very dangerous and cause severe damage to the retina.
In veterinary medicine we encourage our clients to use regenerative laser therapies, like a Class IV type LASER, to help with non-healing or chronic wounds, as well as soft tissue injuries like ruptured tendons and ligament tears. LASER therapy can also be used post-surgery to speed up the healing process from the incision. It can also be used to repair fiber pattern and break scar tissue from old chronic injuries. LASER therapy can even be used in horses with joint damage (arthritis) by stimulating collagen regeneration.
What does LASER therapy do?
LASER therapy helps three important mechanisms that aid with tissue healing:
- Increases blood circulation by interacting with water within the body, creating pressure gradients that will stimulate the capillary blood flow to increase and enhance the perfusion of red blood cells into the tissue treated.
- Promotes oxygenation by increasing the blood circulation. It also increases the amount of red blood cells within the area, which will then interact directly with the hemoglobin to increase the amount of localized oxygenation brought to the tissue.
- Produces metabolic stimulation by interacting with the cellular mitochondria to enhance and promote the efficiency at which cells create and utilize adenosine triphosphate ATP, also known as “chemical energy.”
If you remember your high school biology classes, you will notice that there is no difference between LASER therapy and the natural healing process of the cells — so why use it? The answer is time. Regenerative laser treatments will basically mimic the healing response of the body, but will accomplish it faster and more efficiently, thus reducing the amount and time of rehabilitation a horse will need to return to normal exercise.
Who can perform LASER therapy?
The LASER beam produced by the device is not only harmful to the eye, but because the main source is light and thus heat, it can also burn the skin of the animal. This is why it is important to be properly trained while doing therapy with a LASER machine. It is, after all, a source of radiation that can cause a lot of damage to the user as well as to the patient receiving it.
Regenerative LASER therapy can be performed by a veterinarian or by a trained veterinary technician. The LASER technology has advanced significantly, and now we have mobile LASER units. This means that your animal can be treated not only at the hospital, but also at your farm. Contact your personal veterinarian for more information.
Dr. Daniel Devis was born and raised in Bogota, Colombia. He acquired an interest in horses at a young age at his parents’ farm, where his dad taught him everything about the traditional Colombian cowboy style riding, herding cattle and roping. He attended San Martin University in Bogotá, and received his veterinary medicine and animal husbandry degree in 2012. Daniel completed a year and a half rotating internship in surgery and anesthesia, followed by a two-year fellowship in equine lameness and diagnostic imaging, both at Lexington Equine Surgery & Sports Medicine. Devis obtained his American veterinary license in 2017. His areas of interest are show horses, pre-purchase exams, and basic ambulatory work.
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