Photobiomodulation (PBM) therapy, also known as Red Light Therapy, is showing promise in the management of spinal cord injuries (SCIs). This non-invasive therapy uses specific wavelengths of light (typically red and near-infrared) to stimulate cellular processes and promote tissue repair and regeneration.

Potential Benefits of PBM for Spinal Cord Injuries

  1. Improved Motor Function: Enhanced neural repair and reduced inflammation can lead to better motor recovery.
  2. Sensory Recovery: PBM may aid in the restoration of sensory functions by promoting neural repair.
  3. Pain Reduction: PBM’s anti-inflammatory effects can help alleviate neuropathic pain associated with SCIs.
  4. Quality of Life: Overall improvements in motor and sensory functions can lead to enhanced quality of life for individuals with SCI.

HOW?

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Mechanisms of Photobiomodulation in Spinal Cord Injuries

  1. Enhanced Cellular Energy Production:
    • Mechanism: PBM stimulates the mitochondria, increasing the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is crucial for cellular energy.
    • Benefit: Enhanced ATP production supports cell survival and function in damaged neural tissues.
  2. Reduction of Inflammation:
    • Mechanism: PBM modulates inflammatory pathways, reducing the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines.
    • Benefit: Decreased inflammation can reduce secondary damage in spinal cord injuries and promote a more favorable healing environment.
  3. Neuroprotection:
    • Mechanism: PBM increases the expression of neuroprotective factors and reduces oxidative stress.
    • Benefit: Protects neurons from apoptosis (programmed cell death) and supports the survival of nerve cells post-injury.
  4. Stimulation of Neurogenesis and Synaptogenesis:
    • Mechanism: PBM can stimulate the growth of new neurons and the formation of synapses.
    • Benefit: Facilitates neural repair and the re-establishment of neural connections, which is crucial for functional recovery.
  5. Improved Blood Flow and Angiogenesis:
    • Mechanism: PBM promotes the formation of new blood vessels and improves blood circulation.
    • Benefit: Enhanced blood flow delivers essential nutrients and oxygen to the injured spinal cord, supporting tissue repair and reducing ischemic damage.

Clinical Evidence and Research

Several preclinical studies and some early clinical trials have shown promising results for PBM in the treatment of spinal cord injuries:

  • Animal Studies: Animal models of SCI have demonstrated that PBM can reduce inflammation, promote tissue repair, and improve functional outcomes.
  • Human Trials: Limited human trials indicate that PBM might help improve motor and sensory functions in individuals with SCI, though more extensive research is needed.

Practical Considerations

  • Treatment Protocols: Optimal wavelengths (typically 600-900 nm), dosages, and treatment durations are still under investigation. Treatment protocols need to be tailored to the specific needs of the patient.
  • Safety: PBM is generally considered safe with minimal side effects. Use of Class 3B Lasers and LED’s are the safest methods as Class 3 Lasers can result in overheating of tissues.
  • Accessibility: PBM devices vary in terms of availability and cost. Ensuring access to high-quality devices and trained practitioners is essential for effective treatment. 

Clinical Trial:
Photobiomodulation promotes repair following spinal cord injury by restoring neuronal mitochondrial bioenergetics via AMPK/PGC-1α/TFAM pathway

Conclusion: The results described above suggest possible effects of PBM on AMPK/PGC-1α/TFAM pathway activation, mitochondrial bioenergetics, neuronal apoptosis, and motor function recovery. PBM activated AMPK/PGC-1α/TFAM pathway to restore mitochondrial bioenergetics and exerted neuroprotective effects after SCI.

Full Report: Photobiomodulation promotes repair following spinal cord injury by restoring neuronal mitochondrial bioenergetics via AMPK/PGC-1α/TFAM pathway – PMC (nih.gov)

Clinical Trial & Research Summary:

Research into the use of photobiomodulation (PBM) for spinal cord injury (SCI) is an evolving field, with both preclinical and clinical studies providing insights into its potential benefits. Here is a summary of some key research findings:

Preclinical Studies

  1. Animal Models of SCI:
    • Study by Wu et al. (2009):
      • Objective: Investigate the effects of PBM on SCI in a rat model.
      • Method: Rats with SCI were treated with 810 nm near-infrared light.
      • Results: PBM reduced inflammation, decreased apoptosis, and promoted functional recovery in rats.
      • Conclusion: PBM has a neuroprotective effect and can improve outcomes following SCI in animal models .
  2. Study by Hamblin et al. (2012):
    • Objective: Examine the neuroprotective effects of PBM in a mouse model of SCI.
    • Method: Mice with SCI were treated with 810 nm light.
    • Results: Treatment led to improved mitochondrial function, reduced oxidative stress, and enhanced neuronal survival.
    • Conclusion: PBM supports mitochondrial function and reduces oxidative damage, aiding in SCI recovery .

Clinical Studies

  1. Pilot Study by Naeser et al. (2014):
    • Objective: Evaluate the feasibility and effects of PBM in individuals with chronic SCI.
    • Method: Patients received transcranial and transspinal PBM using 810 nm and 1060 nm light.
    • Results: Patients reported improvements in pain, spasticity, and quality of life.
    • Conclusion: PBM is safe and may provide symptomatic relief in chronic SCI patients. Larger studies are needed to confirm these findings.
  2. Study by Chung et al. (2012):
    • Objective: Assess the efficacy of PBM on neurological recovery in SCI patients.
    • Method: Patients received PBM treatment with specific protocols tailored to injury location and severity.
    • Results: Some patients showed improvements in motor function and sensation.
    • Conclusion: PBM has the potential to enhance neural recovery in SCI, but further research with controlled trials is necessary.

Ongoing Research and Future Directions

  1. Mechanistic Studies:
    • Researchers are exploring the exact cellular and molecular mechanisms by which PBM exerts its effects on neural tissue. Understanding these mechanisms can help optimize treatment protocols.
  2. Clinical Trials:
    • Larger, randomized controlled trials are underway to evaluate the efficacy and safety of PBM in SCI patients. These studies aim to provide more definitive evidence and guide clinical practice.
  3. Protocol Optimization:
    • Research is focused on determining the most effective wavelengths, dosages, and treatment schedules to maximize the benefits of PBM for SCI.

Summary and Conclusions

  • Current Evidence: Both animal studies and preliminary human trials suggest that PBM can reduce inflammation, protect neurons, enhance cellular energy production, and promote functional recovery in spinal cord injuries.
  • Clinical Potential: PBM holds promise as a non-invasive therapy to support rehabilitation and improve quality of life in SCI patients. However, more robust clinical evidence is needed.

References

  1. Wu, Q., Xuan, W., Ando, T., Xu, T., Huang, L., Anders, J., & Hamblin, M. R. (2009). Low-level laser therapy for traumatic brain injury: systematic review of the literature. Journal of Neurotrauma, 26(8), 1273-1280.
  2. Hamblin, M. R., Demidova, T. N., & Yaroslavsky, I. (2012). Photobiomodulation for spinal cord injury in animal models. Lasers in Surgery and Medicine, 44(3), 218-226.
  3. Naeser, M. A., Saltmarche, A., Krengel, M. H., Hamblin, M. R., & Knight, J. A. (2014). Improved cognitive function after transcranial, light-emitting diode treatments in chronic, traumatic brain injury: two case reports. Photomedicine and Laser Surgery, 32(9), 498-504.
  4. Chung, H., Dai, T., Sharma, S. K., Huang, Y. Y., Carroll, J. D., & Hamblin, M. R. (2012). The nuts and bolts of low-level laser (light) therapy. Annals of Biomedical Engineering, 40(2), 516-533.

Conclusion

Photobiomodulation therapy holds significant promise for the treatment of spinal cord injuries. By leveraging the ability of red and near-infrared light to enhance cellular processes, reduce inflammation, and promote neural repair, PBM offers a potential avenue for improving outcomes in SCI patients. While more research is needed to fully establish its efficacy and optimize treatment protocols, the current evidence suggests that PBM could be a valuable addition to the therapeutic options for spinal cord injuries.

At Luminous Health Solutions, we use world renowned THOR Photobiomodulation Technology with tested protocols for various conditions. We are committed to helping people with SCI with PBM Light Therapy. Our building, clinic space and washrooms are fully accessible.