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Headaches: How Lasers Can Help

Everyone at some time in their life has suffered from the throbbing, aching, and annoying pain of a headache. Headaches can be mild, or they can be severe and even debilitating.  While most people experience a headache occasionally, others deal with recurrent head pain, sometimes experiencing headaches weekly, or even up to 15 or more times each month, as in the case of chronic headaches.

Headaches can interfere with daily activities, even the ability to work, negatively impacting one’s quality of life. If you are a chiropractor, a physical therapist, or an acupuncturist, you know that headaches are a very common patient complaint.

Types of Headaches

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Headache disorders, which are characterized by recurrent headache, are associated with personal and societal burdens of pain, disability, damaged quality of life, and financial cost.”[1]  There are four types of headaches: migraine headaches; tension-type headaches; cluster headaches; and medication-overuse headaches.  The most common of these four are migraines and tension headaches (also known as stress headaches), while cluster headaches are the most rare.

Standard Medical Treatment

Mainstream medicine usually takes a pharmacological approach when treating tension headaches and migraines. According to the website of the Mayo Clinic, medications used to combat headaches fall into two broad categories: pain-relieving medications and preventive medications. Preventive medications may take several weeks to build up in your body before they are effective

There are usually negative side effects to consider when taking these medications.  Over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers can cause ulcers and bleeding in the GI tract, as well as medication-overuse headaches.  Some medications can cause sleepiness, dizziness, nausea, weight gain, and, especially in the case of opioids (prescribed for those who cannot take other migraine medications) even addiction. And some medications may not be safe for those at risk of a stroke or a heart attack. Add to these risks the high cost of the drugs, and your patients may want to seriously consider a more natural treatment for headache relief.

Try Laser Therapy

Pain medications only provide temporary relief.  For a longer-lasting solution, try administering laser therapy for both headache pain and prevention. Laser therapy is non-invasive and has proven to be highly effective for alleviating all types of pain.  In addition to providing quick pain relief, lasers can also help relieve the root cause of headaches, be it upper back or neck injuries, whiplash, TMJ, sinus conditions, or other issues, which may lead to permanent relief.  Laser therapy, “is effective for disorders requiring tissue regeneration, pain relief and reduction of inflammation, treating nociceptive, neuropathic and musculoskeletal pain.”[2]

Lasers for Chronic Migraines

A 2018 study of chronic migraine (CM) patients found that laser treatment reduced headache days and medication intake, and sleep quality also improved. “In the LLLT group [“LLLT” stands for “low level laser therapy.”  It is a common acronym used the most frequently to describe the utilization of lasers for clinical therapy. It is not unique to any specific class of laser.] the number of headache days sharply decreased…showing a long-lasting effect of LLLT in CM.  These patients initially had a mean of 20 headache days/month decreasing to four, and then to two headache days/month.”[3]  This study determined that “…LLLT is a very promising therapy for pain disorders and a potential candidate for an effective migraine prevention method…”[4]

Lasers for Tension Headaches

A study conducted in 2005 explored the effects of laser acupuncture (using lasers instead of needles on acupuncture points) on 50 patients suffering from tension headaches. This study suggested that “laser acupuncture may be an effective treatment for chronic tension-type headache…”[5]

Sum Up

People with recurrent headaches don’t have to continue to suffer when a laser can help relieve pain more effectively and without the high cost and risky side effects of pharmaceuticals.  If you are a chiropractor, physical therapist, or acupuncturist, consider adding laser therapy to your treatment menu to greatly help all of your headache patients.

[1] World Health Organization. Headache disorders.www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/headache-disorders. 8 April 2016. Accessed 25 February 2021.

[2] Loeb LM, Amorim RP, Mazzacoratti MDGN, Scorza FA, Peres MFP. Botulinum toxin A (BT-A) versus low-level laser therapy (LLLT) in chronic migraine treatment: a comparison. Arq Neuropsiquiatr. 2018 Oct;76(10):663-667. doi: 10.1590/0004-282X20180109. PMID: 30427505, p. 664.

[3] Ibid., p.665.

[4] Ibid., p.666.

[5] Ebneshahidi NS, Heshmatipour M, Moghaddami A, Eghtesadi-Araghi P. The effects of laser acupuncture on chronic tension headache–a randomised controlled trial. Acupunct Med. 2005 Mar;23(1):13-8. doi: 10.1136/aim.23.1.13. PMID: 15844435.

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