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News10Now Touts "Cold Laser Therapy"

Introduction

Have you ever heard of Cold Laser Therapy? Sometimes it’s referred to as Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT). Well, News10Now (Syracuse, NY) did a story on it yesterday (10/4/2008). Here’s the link.

I didn’t really know much about Cold Laser Therapy until I saw this story. The FDA has an interesting page dedicated to it.

The basic idea behind the FDA approving laser therapy is that the laser won’t kill you. So, it’s approved. Here’s what that page says about LLLT:

BIOSTIMULATION LASERS

Biostimulation lasers, also called low level laser therapy (LLLT), cold lasers, soft lasers, or laser acupuncture devices, were cleared for marketing by FDA through the Premarket Notification/510(k) process as adjunctive devices for the temporary relief of pain. These clearances were based on the presentation of clinical data to support such claims. FDA will consider similar applications for these and other claims with the decision to require clinical data being made on an individual basis, taking into consideration both the device and the claim.

Just because something is FDA approved, does not immediately make it effective.

Now, the Premarket Notification/510(k) process simply states that:

A 510(k) is a Premarket submission made to FDA to demonstrate that the device to be marketed is at least as safe and effective, that is, substantially equivalent, to a legally marketed device (21 CFR 807.92(a)(3)) that is not subject to PMA. Submitters must compare their device to one or more similar legally marketed devices and make and support their substantial equivalency claims.

So basically, all the device has to do is work as well as some other device on the market. It just has to be safe enough not to injure or kill you.

The process also speaks of Substantial Equivalence:

1. has the same intended use as the predicate; and

2. has the same technological characteristics as the predicate;or

3. has the same intended use as the predicate; and

4. has different technological characteristics and

1. the information submitted to FDA; does not raise new questions of safety and effectiveness; and

2. demonstrates that the device is at least as safe and effective as the legally marketed device.

Not very sturdy criteria for a “cure.”

In case you’re interested, you can see some nutcases on YouTube peddling Cold Laser Therapy for countless ailments, for humans as well as horses!

The News10Now Story

Back to the story. Here’s the video. And here’s the article.

This story is completely credulous. There is no skepticism presented at all. Dr. Kristy Allen says:

“It does everything from improving range of motion, improving healing rate, and decreasing pain,” Allen said.

Allen said the laser light triggers biological reactions that rid the body of toxins. The treatment itself takes only a few minutes.

With all of these claims, there should be at least some evidence to support any of them. The thing that really triggered my skeptical radar was the part about…

“laser light triggers biological reactions that rid the body of toxins.”

A generic statement made by purveyors of woo to make it sound like their product is doing something incredible. There is no mention of which toxins are being removed. Even more is the assumption that our bodies are “full of toxins.” They are not.

Then there was this quote:

Those who offer the treatment say the red and near infrared light over injuries, lesions, burns, pain, inflammation and other disorders stimulates healing within those tissues. It has also been found to be an extremely successful treatment for alcohol & drug addiction, weight control, and smoking cessation.

It is of utmost importance to exercise skepticism when someone makes such a wide, all-consuming claim such as this. Not only does it heal injuries, but it helps with alcohol & drug addiction? Where’s the evidence for that?

The Evidence

There have been studies done on this type of therapy. Not as supportive of this story’s conclusion, but there are studies, nonetheless.

Here is a study that was done which compared patients receiving LLLT as compared with a placebo. The patients who received the placebo actually faired better than those receiving LLLT.

The point that wasn’t even considered in this story was the fact that her pain could have gotten better all on its own, with no treatment needed. And it may have improved regardless of the treatment offered.

LLLT, interestingly enough, has its roots in Acupuncture (uh, oh – woo alert!). Here’s what chiroweb.com has to say about it:

Clinical Studies

A number of papers have shown a reduction of pain with laser treatments directed over acupuncture points. Altered skin resistance with a reduction of pain were also noted in subjects who receive LLLT over muscular trigger points.

Ah yes, “acupuncture points.” Anyone familiar with the studies done on Acupuncture knows that “effective” is not a word used to describe that methodology. And for LLLT to be associated with Acupuncture says a lot about the basis for this therapy.

This topic has also been discussed on the JREF discussion boards. Very interesting information.

Actual, medicine-based (science-based) treatments, such as recommended for this woman’s “Frozen Shoulder” by MedicineNet.com states the following:

How is a frozen shoulder treated?

The treatment of a frozen shoulder usually requires an aggressive combination of antiinflammatory medication, cortisone injection(s) into the shoulder, and physical therapy. Without aggressive treatment, a frozen shoulder can be permanent.

Diligent physical therapy is often key and can include ultrasound, electric stimulation, range-of-motion exercise maneuvers, ice packs, and eventually strengthening exercises. Physical therapy can take weeks to months for recovery, depending on the severity of the scarring of the tissues around the shoulder.

It is very important for people with a frozen shoulder to avoid reinjuring the shoulder tissues during the rehabilitation period. These individuals should avoid sudden, jerking motions of or heavy lifting with the affected shoulder.

Sometimes frozen shoulders are resistant to treatment. Patients with resistant frozen shoulders can be considered for release of the scar tissue by arthroscopic surgery or manipulation of the scarred shoulder under anesthesia. This manipulation is performed to physically break up the scar tissue of the joint capsule. It carries the risk of breaking the arm bone (humerus fracture). It is very important for patients that undergo manipulation to partake in an active exercise program for the shoulder after the procedure. It is only with continued exercise of the shoulder that mobility and function is optimized.

Nothing mentioning Acupuncture, Chiropractic, or Laser Treatments. Those things are not effective.

Conclusion

I understand that the media is in it for the money. But, I think there is something wrong with purveying something that is completely untrue. I wonder if the person who did this story even looked into it? I mean, people’s health is at stake with stories like this. It is, in my opinion, unethical to promote a modality which has no evidence to support it, other than anecdotes or stories.

There should be more involved than just interviewing the person making the claim. I doubt the interviewer even asked for evidence, other than the anecdote from the woman receiving the treatment.

I would just say that science in the media does not receive the scrutiny that it truly deserves. To simply make a claim, and for that claim to make it on local television news does not help the scientific or medical community, whatsoever.

What happens when doctors try to tell their patients about real evidence that supports or refutes a claim? People won’t listen because they “saw it on the news.” So their doctor must be wrong. This leads people to mistrust their health care providers, in favor of kooks who promote sham treatments on local television. They’ll just keep looking around until they find a doctor willing to jab, poke, prod, or pump them full of whatever the local homeopath or chiropractor is talking about on the local news channel.

The media (especially local media) needs to exercise scientific skepticism, now more than ever.

Categories: All, Health, Local, Media, Science, Skepticism