A muscle tear, also referred to as a strain or pull, is a common injury in athletes and active people alike. You have about 300 muscles in your body that give action to your limbs and definition to your body. The muscles that are most vulnerable to a strain are the hamstring (running behind the backs of the legs) and quadriceps (running along the tops of the thighs). Standard treatment involves rest, ice, compression and painkillers. A less accepted approach is low-level laser, or infrared, therapy, which is more broadly called electrotherapy.
There are three degrees of muscle strain. The first-degree varieties are very mild, called pulled muscles, and involve only about 5 per cent of the tissue. In a second-degree tear, any movement elicits pain, and a bump may form. Walking or standing might be very painful. A third-degree tear involves the full muscle width, forming a very large, extremely painful and bleeding lump internally. Contraction of the muscle may be impossible. For proper healing, surgery is often indicated.
Low-Level Laser Therapy
For the treatment of muscle pain and tears, low-level laser therapy (LLLT) has been used in Asia and Eastern Europe during the past several decades, says the website Dynamic Chiropractic. LLLT is not a common therapy in the West. However, the efficacy of lasers in medicine is well-documented. Less well-understood is laser therapy for biostimulation. The idea behind this therapy is that lasers employed at lower energy levels can change cell function without introducing heat, thereby speeding tissue repair, reducing inflammation and easing pain.
When low-level lasers irradiate muscles and other tissues, two things happen. There's what's called photon absorption, or the absorption of light, in addition to speckle creation. In photon absorption, molecules in the cell's mitochondria (energy powerhouses within the cell) transform chemical energy into energy the cell can use. Key to the low-level laser process is the speckle field effect, explains Momentum Chiropractic, which involves focusing the laser beam deep into the tissue, well beyond surface level.
Dynamic Chiropractic proclaims that more than 2,500 studies have been conducted to assess the efficacy of LLLT for use in Europe and Asia. The treatment has not gained widespread approval in North America, however. In one study pointed to by Dynamic Chiropractic, more than 4,000 patients with conditions such as arthritis, muscle pain, tension myalgia and tendinitis underwent a course of low-level light therapy with significant results, although the specific study was not named. The investigation concluded that about 80 per cent of subjects' symptoms were greatly decreased after a course of infrared laser irradiation.
Risks and Guidelines
Dynamic Chiropractic explains that low-level lasers are an insignificant risk for use in research and by practitioners, as classified by the Food and Drug Administration. Therapeutic lasers can be used in the United States only within the parameters of a caregiver's practice. In the case of research, LLLT guidelines must be strictly adhered to, with the specifics of investigational protocol monitored by an independent review board. The only states thus far to have laid out LLLT guidelines and set up review boards are Florida and Massachusetts.