Shockingly, 1 in 5 adults in America experience chronic pain. That’s a whopping 50.2 million people who report feeling pain most days or every day. This staggering statistic is just the start for those suffering from knee pain.
In fact, knee pain is the second most commonly felt chronic pain, with one-third of all Americans experiencing this at some time or another. And when this strikes, quality of life is hugely compromised.
As chronic pain can majorly restrict mobility and reduce quality of life, finding a treatment to manage discomfort, heal tissue quicker, and provide much-needed mobility is key.
This is when many turn to alternative solutions like cold laser therapy for knee pain. To help those in need, we’ve looked at just how effective cold laser therapy is and the treatment process.
Understanding Knee Pain
Let’s bring it back to basics by examining the anatomy of the knee before looking at common causes and injuries.
The knee comprises three parts: the tibia, femur, and patella.
Tibia: This is the shin bone and is the larger bone in the lower leg.
Femur: This is the thigh bone and can be felt in the upper leg.
Patella: This is the kneecap.
The ends of these bones are covered by the protective cartilage, which adds support to the bones and joints as it acts as a shock absorber. These bones are also held together by muscles, ligaments, and tendons.
While there is some form of protection on the knees in the form of tissue, it’s easy to see just how impactful various movements can be on the lower body - for example, imagine the bones coming together when jumping.
The most commonly reported causes of knee pain are due to aging, injury, or repeated stress on the knee. Injuries could be the result of a one-off traumatic event, like a car accident or a fall, or due to sports where sprains, strains, and tears can happen.
Even if an instant injury hasn’t occurred following a traumatic event, conditions like tendonitis can form shortly after. This is where the tendon swells and becomes increasingly painful, with sore or painful knees being a sign of the condition.
Exercise can cause certain conditions too, like Osgood-Schlatter’s disease. This mainly impacts children and young people and is where the bony lump under the kneecap becomes swollen and painful during and after exercise.
Similar to this is Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome, which is brought on by running, squatting, cycling, or even simply sitting with flexed knees. This condition affects many and usually leads to pain behind or around the kneecap.
Arthritis can also be a problem in the knee joint. Osteoarthritis is the most common type and can strike anyone at any age. This may make the knee stiff and painful, with the feeling worsening after moving the knee.
Aside from the usual strains, sprains, and fractures, which are very common, other typical knee injuries include…
Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Injuries
The anterior cruciate ligament helps to stabilize the knee joint and connects to the thigh bone and shinbone. An ACL tear is often seen in athletes - especially people who compete in sports involving cutting and pivoting, like football and basketball - as changing direction quickly and landing from jumps can increase the likelihood of this injury.
Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL) Injuries
Lesser known than an ACL tear, but still a regular injury, is a PCL tear. While this does impact athletes, it can impact those in car accidents too as it’s due to a blow to the front of the knee.
Unlike the ACL though, the posterior cruciate ligament can heal on its own.
Collateral Ligament Injuries
The collateral ligaments include the medial (MCL) and lateral (LCL), which are found on the sides of your knee. When a force pushes the knee sideways, this can bring on a collateral ligament injury. This is only really done when contact hits against the knee.
The meniscus can be damaged when being tackled, twisting, cutting, or pivoting. Arthritis or aging can be a factor too, with a meniscus tear being amongst one of the most common knee pain injuries.
A ruptured tendon or tendon tear is most likely to impact people who are middle-aged or older.
Direct trauma or aging can cause the fibrous tissue that attaches muscle to bone to snap or rupture. For knee pain, this will be a rupture in the quadriceps. This is a group of four muscles that join together above the kneecap to form the patellar tendon.
This happens when a bone is moved out of place and alignment. A force is usually needed for this to happen, so it’s commonly seen after a high-energy trauma like a fall, car accident, or sports-related contact.
Impact on Life
Knee pain is hugely debilitating to daily life and can, unfortunately, occur regularly due to how much stress the knee bears every day.
Activities like lifting, kneeling, jogging, and aerobics can all increase tension and load onto that area - even walking can be a disruptor.
When an injury occurs, rest is needed to help the knee regain its strength. However, you should avoid keeping the knee stagnant for long periods of time. Instead, gently move your knee for 10 to 20 seconds every hour. This rest and recuperation will bring a temporary halt to your usual activities.
For those with chronic knee pain, finding a solution to help ease this allows for the pain to be managed more effectively over time.
When Should I See a Medical Professional?
If you cannot bear any weight on one leg or both, seek urgent medical support. There are other alarm bells you should be aware of too…
- Severe knee pain
- If you heard a cracking or popping sound when the knee was first injured
- Significant swelling and bruising
- If the knee is now in an awkward shape
- If you notice any changes in your bladder or bowel
- Losing sensation in one or both feet
For ongoing issues, you should visit your doctor if you’re experiencing the following…
- Moderate knee pain
- Consistent pain
- A knee which gives away regularly or locks
- Worsening symptoms
- Swollen lymph nodes
- High temperature along with knee pain
- No improvement after a week
What is Cold Laser Therapy for Knee Pain?
Cold laser therapy is a treatment where low-level lasers or light-emitting diodes are applied to the surface of the knee to achieve the desired results.
To be more specific, the wavelengths used by cold laser therapy sit around 600 to 1000nm. These wavelengths are able to penetrate deep beneath the skin to deliver nutrients to our cells.
Alternative names for cold laser therapy include low-level laser therapy, low-power laser therapy, soft laser biostimulation, or photobiomodulation.
How Laser Therapy Helps with Knee Pain
Laser therapy has numerous benefits, from the ability to reduce pain, enhance the body’s nerve function, improve circulation, heal tissues, and help swelling and inflammation go down.
For those with knee pain due to soft tissue injuries, often seen in sports injuries, laser therapy is used often as it can help heal the affected tissues while relaxing the muscles and modulating the immune system.
If arthritis is prominent in your knee, or you’re experiencing other musculoskeletal conditions, laser therapy is particularly useful for reducing this chronic pain and helping with any inflammation that occurs around the joint.
What are the Benefits of Cold Laser Therapy for Knee Pain?
Cold laser therapy is favored by many because of its ability to offer pain relief and healing without any nasty surgical procedures. Aside from the ease of administering cold laser therapy, other benefits include…
- Reduces the swelling and inflammation you may experience near the joint.
- Relaxes the muscles around the knee, which helps with the pain.
- Accelerates the healing of tissue.
- Improves range of motion.
- Non-invasive and low-risk.
- No downtime, with minimal side effects.
Cold laser therapy has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties which is hugely beneficial for helping bring mobility back into your knee.
When the light is applied to the affected area, it can help modulate the body’s immune response, reducing the production of pro-inflammatory molecules such as prostaglandins and cytokines.
Once applied, cold laser therapy also promotes vasodilation (widening of the blood vessels). This means blood flow can be increased to the knee, enhancing circulation for those crucial immune cells and nutrients to reach that area - all further aiding the reduction of inflammation.
Cold lasers are able to target the root causes of discomfort, which brings a higher chance of bringing that much-needed relief to individuals with knee pain - perfect for chronic pain or one-off injuries.
By penetrating deep into the affected tissues, it can work on alleviating joint pain, prompting improved mobility, and restoring a better quality of life.
Cold laser therapy has demonstrated its ability to manage and reduce pain by stimulating the release of endorphins which are often referred to as the body’s natural painkillers.
Tissue Repair and Accelerated Healing
This form of therapy can work wonders for soft tissue injuries as it enhances cellular metabolism by stimulating the mitochondria, the powerhouses of cells.
These cells then produce more adenosine triphosphate (ATP) which provides energy for cellular functions. This increased ATP production heightens various cellular processes, including DNA replication, protein synthesis, and tissue repair.
Non-Invasive and Low-Risk
With cold laser therapy, there are no symptoms that you must overcome, no lengthy processes, and thankfully no complications like you see with surgery or medication.
Due to this, the discomfort that can sometimes follow an injury is reduced because there’s little to no pain while using cold laser therapy.
As there are no surgical incisions, scarring isn’t an issue to be concerned about nor are post-procedural marks.
Another benefit is the much lower risk of infection. Invasive procedures can introduce pathogens into the body, sometimes leading to infection. But with cold laser therapy, the skin remains intact so there’s no risk.
The Treatment Process
How Many Sessions Do I Need?
Light therapy isn’t intended to be a one-off. Being consistent is the best way to see results, especially as it’s not a one-size-fits-all. Everyone is unique and will react differently to the various types of light therapy.
Instead of doing 30 minutes every few months, you’ll see most results with a simple 5-15 minute session every day.
Is Laser Therapy Safe for Treating Knee Pain?
Cold laser therapy for knee pain is safe, but read through the device’s guidelines to ensure proper application. If you have any concerns, consult a healthcare professional to receive tailored support about your recovery process.
As you’ll be targeting the knee, the laser or light likely won’t be anywhere close to your eyes. But if you do change the usage area, keep your eyes protected as the therapy’s bright light could potentially harm your eyes if not shielded properly.
What Are The Side Effects of Cold Laser Therapy?
Side effects for cold laser therapy aren’t too common thankfully, but could include slight discomfort, skin irritation, or a temporary increase in your symptoms.
These are rare and generally short-lived, making cold laser therapy a better choice than other treatments available on the market - especially those that are invasive and harsh on the body.
If, however, you are experiencing side effects, you should contact a medical professional.