Low-energy lasers easing chronic pain

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Lasers are often used in health care for surgery, but less potent versions of light therapy can be used by chiropractors or physical therapists in pain management. These small battery-operated cold lasers could someday even be used at home by chronic pain sufferers.

Cold lasers, a low-energy laser, activate the local metabolic process, stimulating the healing process and decreasing pain.

Stairs and writing are two things Gary Arnold of Cape Girardeau has struggled with since the onset of his arthritis in 1992. After Arnold complained about his painful knees and wrists, his new neighbor brought over a small laser therapy machine and told him to "just try it."

"It has helped quite a bit," Arnold said. He uses the laser on his knees and hands twice a day for five to 10 minutes. "As soon as you use it, [the pain] goes away."

Arnold's new neighbor happened to be Dr. Barry Ungerleider, a physician from Texas who moved to Southeast Missouri to practice family medicine at Southeast Missouri Health Network in Sikeston.

Ungerleider had collaborated with other physicians and laser enthusiasts to invent a handheld laser that would be affordable for smaller clinics who wanted to dip into the technology, but didn't have the funds to commit to a large unit.

Most lasers on the market can run a physician's office anywhere from $4,000 up to $16,000, depending on the size and amenities. Ungerleider markets his for about $1,500. The Healing Lasers Model A Laser is patent pending and not-yet FDA approved, but doctors are increasingly employing the technology for a variety of ailments.

"I use it for any and everything just about," said Dr. Chris Miller of Miller Chiropractic & Laser Treatment Center in Olney, Ill.

Miller bought his first laser from Ungerleider about a year ago and now has six in his practice.

Miller said he uses it most on sprains, strains and tendinitis.

Typically, a badly sprained ankle can take four to six weeks.

"I think you see recovery with the laser in two to three weeks," he said. With laser therapy, recovery time is cut "definitely in half, if not quicker."

Cold lasers can be used for psoriasis, eczema, slipped disks, Bell's palsy and carpal tunnel syndrome. "I have also used it for ADHD," Miller said. He hits acupuncture spots to stimulate points and get results.

With all the uses, Miller said his lasers have earned their low price. Ungerleider has helped get roughly 2,000 Model A's to physicians wanting to experiment with new healing methods.

"We were looking to serve the doctor or researcher who didn't have an unlimited budget," Ungerleider said. "And eventually get it down to in reach of the patients."

He makes the distinction that personal-use lasers should be reserved for chronic pain sufferers, not a one-time sprained ankle. The Model A and similar units on the market use a low watt pulsating beam that is ultimately safe for novice use, after being instructed by a physician.

"Cold laser," he said, "it doesn't transfer enough energy to cut or permanently alter body issues." Ungerleider instructed Arnold on how to use the Model A and now he and his wife, Doris Jean Arnold, get daily relief from a laser instead of medicine.

"You can take something with you and use it like a bottle of Tylenol," Doris Jean said. "It's wonderful."

charris@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 246

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