A laser is an intense, focused beam of light that can become a powerful medical instrument in the hands of a skilled doctor. Cosmetic surgeons, oncologists, dermatologists, and opthamologists are just a few of the medical providers who use lasers to treat a wide variety of conditions.
In recent years, podiatrists have begun using laser therapy to treat Plantar Fasciitis and heel pain. The precision of modern laser therapy offers a non-invasive alternative to surgery that may relieve pain and promote healing of Plantar Fasciitis
If you or a loved one suffer from Plantar Fasciitis, the following information can help you decide whether laser therapy is right for you:
What Is Laser Therapy for Plantar Fasciitis?
There are two main kinds of laser therapy that can be used to treat Plantar Fasciitis: low-level laser therapy (also called LLLT, or “cold laser therapy), and high-level laser therapy (also called “hot laser therapy). It’s important to understand that even among “cold lasers,” different brands have different beam types, pulse speeds and purported effectiveness.
Both types of laser therapy involve moving a highly focused beam of light over the plantar fascia in an effort to stimulate cellular metabolism, protein synthesis, wound healing, and immune response. The depth of the laser’s reach and its effectiveness can vary depending on the type and brand of laser used.
Low-Level Laser Therapy (AKA, Cold-Laser Therapy)
This treatment for Plantar Fasciitis has been approved by the FDA and is covered by most insurance companies. Low-level laser therapy is also called “cold-laser therapy,” since the pulse of the laser (a Class III laser) is so low that almost no heat is generated. Most people report feeling no pain during the procedure.
According to some doctors, patients may feel immediate relief from their heel pain, and some studies show that low-level laser therapy can be effective when combined with conservative treatments like stretching and orthotics. Other clinical trials show no difference in healing when compared with placebo. However, anecdotal evidence for the effectiveness of low-level laser therapy is strong, and many people report pain relief and long-term positive outcomes.
High-Level Laser Therapy (AKA, Hot Laser Therapy)
As the field of laser therapy has grown, some doctors now prefer to use Class IV lasers instead of Class III lasers to perform laser therapy for Plantar Fasciitis. This stronger beam can penetrate deeper into the tissue and is often called “hot laser therapy,” since the stronger laser produces more heat.
This procedure can be more painful, and some doctors believe that it unnecessarily damages healthy tissue. However, other doctors insist that the more powerful laser is necessary to penetrate the fascia deeply enough to treat the injury effectively. One industry-sponsored study showed that 80 percent of patients treated with a Class IV laser improved their Plantar Fasciitis.
Is Laser Treatment Effective for Plantar Fasciitis?
There’s plenty of differing opinions about laser therapy in the field of podiatry. Some doctors advocate for laser therapy (either hot or cold), while others insist that the treatment is a waste of time. Laser therapy appears to be extremely effective for some individuals, while ineffective for others.
If you’re considering laser therapy for Plantar Fasciitis, it’s important to talk to your doctor and manage your expectations. However, since laser therapy is inexpensive and relatively painless, many people consider it a worthwhile experiment before surgery, or a useful supplemental treatment in combination with tried-and-true conservative treatment methods for Plantar Fasciitis.
Pros and Cons of Laser Therapy
Both hot and cold laser therapies are safe, non-invasive, and relatively painless. The main drawback for both types of laser therapy is the mixed reports of laser therapy’s effectiveness; however, improved modern lasers may be more more effective in targeting and treating the damaged fascia, and new studies show more promise for laser therapy.
Pro: Safe, with Minimal Side Effects
Laser therapy comes with almost zero potential for negative side effects. You may experience mild redness, inflammation or swelling immediately after the procedure, especially for hot laser therapy; however, icing and NSAIDs can be used as needed.
Pro: Non-Invasive, Minimal Pain, and Fast Treatment
Cold laser therapy is virtually painless. Hot laser therapy may be more painful, but is usually reported as being tolerable without anesthesia. Some people describe the sensation as a hot rubber band being snapped on the bottom of their foot. Both types of laser therapy require only a few minutes per treatment.
Since most insurance companies cover laser therapy, the cost may be as little as a copay. Most doctors recommend a series of 6-12 treatments over the course of several weeks. Compared to surgery, which may cost thousands of dollars, laser therapy is significantly less expensive.
Con: Mixed Evidence of Effectiveness
While earlier studies and clinical trials found little evidence of laser therapy’s effectiveness, some doctors point to poorly designed clinical trials and older laser models. Modern lasers are more powerful, more precise and appear to show potential for healing and pain relief.
Make sure to ask what brand of laser your doctor uses, and do you research to find out if others have had positive experiences with that particular brand. You’ll also want to find out whether your doctor is using a Class III (cold laser therapy) or Class IV laser (hot laser therapy).