Ray of light

A "Ray of Light" Improves Recovery from Neck Injury

The neck is vulnerable. This delicate cervical column bears the burden of supporting the neck through its myriad functions: it tilts, pivots, nods and carries 8% of the body's weight each day. It is no wonder that so many of the clients come to the clinic because of long-standing neck pain and headaches.

What is it about the neck?

In many ways, the joints, which comprise the cervical spine, are just like other joints, but on a much smaller scale. Joint surfaces are covered with cartilage, providing a smooth glide. Ligaments provide support to the neck and surrounding muscles provide control through motion. Injury to these joints should follow all the usual processes for healing that other joints do.

Why are neck injuries so resistant to recovery that pain often persists long after it should have healed?

There are several reasons why neck pain may be different from the pain in other joints:

  • The small size and delicacy of the individual joints suggest vulnerability to injury.
  • The relentless pull of gravity forever messes with normal posture and alignment.
  • The effects of stress and sleep disturbance affect muscle tone in the neck.
  • While the list goes on, one cannot overlook the close proximity to the brain as a consideration in the delayed healing of neck injuries.
  • It is increasingly observed that a great many neck injuries may be connected to some degree of brain injury. Look no further than the frequency of sports injuries, slip and fall injuries, motor vehicle accidents for evidence of potential head trauma.

What does light have to do with neck pain?

Here is where the ray of light and hope comes in. Extensive research has proven that low intensity laser (light) therapy (LILT) accelerates healing of joints and the surrounding soft tissue. Light receptors within our tissues can absorb energy of specific wavelengths to stimulate production of ADP, the basic cell fuel. When laser therapy is added to treatment, the patient experiences the advantage of improved treatment outcomes for a wide range of joint injuries, including neck pain.

So the neck is special!

What is unique about the neck region is the extension of the cerebro spinal (CSF) fluid, which buffers and provides nutrition to the brain into the area of the low neck. Just as other tissues can uptake and utilize to advantage light energy, so can the cerebrospinal fluid. So.. when we treat neck injuries such as whiplash with laser therapy, we can influence the joint injury and accompanying head injury, such as contusion. At this time, the inclusion of low intensity laser in a treatment plan provides superior treatment result for the range of injuries typically seen within a physiotherapy practice.

Finally, for those who are intrigued by this technology, and would like to explore its benefits a little more remember that lasers, like cars are not created equal. The healing benefits of light are derived from wavelengths in the 660-840 nm range, and must be of sufficient power to effect change. Only then can one reap the benefits of accelerated recovery from the low intensity laser treatments. Even with the best of treatments, healing takes time and dedication.

Estelle Barry MCISc(PT), MCPA has 40 years experience working as a physiotherapist in a variety of clinical settings. Her understanding of how the body heals has led to a professional focus on posture, exercise and the addition of laser therapy to physiotherapy treatment to accelerate the body's healing potential.