• The effects of ‘low level lasers’ known since the 1960’s

• NASA developed monochromatic LED lights in the 1980’s

• Both ‘low level lasers’ and ‘NASA LEDs’ achieve Photobiomodulation

The development of the first working laser in 1960 opened up a completely new and unknown area of science. Research was undertaken to see if there were any harmful effects following exposure to both laser light and to exposure of low levels of light and revealed only positive effects: Low Level Laser Therapy was born and the name stuck.

During the 1980’s, NASA was developing specialised blue and red LED lights for long distance space travel that were ‘monochromatic’, meaning the light was one pure colour – a characteristic of laser light. Experiments revealed that ‘NASA LEDs’ had a similar effect to low level lasers and over the last decade LEDs have become increasingly used alongside low level lasers in the treatment of pain and disease.

Since the academic name for what both low level lasers and NASA LEDs achieve is called Photobiomodulation (Photo=light, Bio=life, Modulation=have a controlling effect), this is being adopted as the correct name for the stimulating effect that certain types of light achieves in the body.

How does Laser light differ from LEDs?

Both Lasers and the ‘NASA’ LEDs produce light that is ‘monochromatic’, meaning light of one pure wavelength/colour, and since this is the primary driver of change in the body, both achieve similar effects. However, due to the way in which the light is produced, laser light is ‘coherent’, meaning all of the light is travelling parallel and in the same direction, and is much more intense. This effectively means more energy can be delivered in shorter times – an important factor in being able to provide treatment in a reasonable timeframe.

Which is better; Laser or LED?

Both lasers and LEDs have their uses in the treatment of conditions and injuries, and at Leigham Practice we often use them together to improve the outcomes for our patients. We find that lasers give a more targeted treatment for very specific areas, such as sciatica, tendinopathy. sprains and fractures, while LEDs can be more beneficial for broader areas, such as skin conditions, wounds, ulcers and back pain.

Why is Photobiomodulation not more widely known?

The name Low Level Laser Therapy (or ‘LLLT’) was well established for 20 years before NASA LEDs started to be used in treatment. Although the LEDs were classed as a ‘laser product’ they were not strictly speaking ‘lasers’, so promoting Low Level Laser Therapy using LEDs is technically incorrect. While Photobiomodulation is well understood by researchers and those medical professionals treating patients, the term Photobiomodulation, or PBM Therapy, will take some time to become firmly established, but it is the correct term and worth staying with.