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Neck pain no more

One in every four adults suffers from severe neck pain at some time in their lives.

Australians spend $34 billion dollars a year on pain management. Neck pain treatment amounts to about a quarter of that.

But Dr Roberta Chow from the University of Sydney's Brain and Mind Research Institute says low-level laser therapy (LLLT) is the "beginning of a new branch of medicine" that could be the answer for sufferers.

Results from 16 controlled trials with a total of 820 patients indicated that most patients reported both short-term and medium-term pain relief with the treatment.

Overall, the researchers said the trials indicated "moderate statistical evidence for efficacy of low-level laser therapy" for neck pain.

"I do say this is my magic wand sometimes; but I try and be realistic with people too, Dr Chow says.

"I'm just blocking the nerves. It's acting like a nerve block, and if we do it again and again we will make your nervous system less sensitive. Then you can move more and you'll gradually get better."

The treatment is low-intensity laser beams — allegedly too weak to generate biologically significant heat — at the back or side of the neck, targeting muscles, and vertebral joints and penetrating several centimetres of tissue.

But strong skepticism has come from some experts in traditional pain management.

No one is sure how it works, but Dr Chow is now trying to find the reason for its effectiveness. One of the potential explanations is anti-inflammatory effects from radiation.

Here are some pros and cons of the LLLT treatment:

Pros

  • Requires no surgery, no needles, and no medicines.
  • No side effects from surgery or strong drugs.
  • It's fast, sometimes taking just 15 minutes to relieve pain.

    Cons

  • Not yet fully known how the treatment works.
  • Several patients in the trials reported increased tiredness.
  • 10 to 20 percent of patients in the trials did not report any change.
  • One treatment is never enough and each session costs $60.

    Dr Roberta Chow is unable to take on new patients at this time.
    Not many practitioners are currently using the "cold laser", also known as LLLT.
    For further information go to Australian Medical Laser Association website: http://www.amla.org.au/index.html
    103 Malton Road BEECROFT NSW 2119
    Fax: 1800 067 550

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