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Shedding Light on Pain Management

A new infrared device eases aches and pain, proponents say

SATURDAY, Aug. 10, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Infrared light has been used for years to ease aches and pains, and now proponents say a federally approved device known called a Photonic Stimulator is providing more effective and safer light therapy than was available before.

The Photonic Stimulator is a hand-held device that emits low-level infrared light that penetrates the skin to stimulate blood flow and circulation, easing aches and pains, says Dr. Curtis Turchin, director of clinical sciences for Computerized Thermal Imaging Inc., the company that sells the device.

Proponents of the therapy say the light enters the body as photons that are absorbed by photo receptors within cells. Photons strike damaged tissue, including skin, muscle and bone, and create a cellular response that reduces pain and jump-starts the healing process.

Turchin says the device is much more powerful than the laser equipment previously used for infrared light therapy. The stimulator emits some 400 milliwatts of power during treatment, while the average laser emits 20 milliwatts.

However, it's also safer, he says, because the light is diffused over an area rather than focused, like a laser.

"When you have a less-focused light, it provides a margin of safety," Turchin says. "There's less danger of eye or skin damage."

Turchin says there are about 100 to 150 Photonic Stimulators in use across the country. They can be found in a wide variety of places, including hospitals, physical therapy clinics, doctors' offices and chiropractors' offices. Sports teams use them as well, he says.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved infrared light therapy for treating aches and pains, and some studies have shown wounds and cancer cells also respond to the treatment, health experts say.

The therapy is becoming somewhat popular in athletics. The San Diego Padres pro baseball team has been using the Photonic Stimulator for two seasons, with the team's trainer employing it to treat players' muscle injuries, including pulled hamstrings from running, overextended elbows from throwing, and muscle tightness from weight lifting. The U.S. Track and Field team also used the Photonic Stimulator at the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.

It's not a universally accepted method of treatment, however.

The Aetna health insurance company refuses to cover the cost of infrared light therapy. "Because of a lack of adequate evidence in the peer-reviewed published medical literature, infrared therapy is considered experimental and investigational," the company's Web site says.

Dr. Len Saputo, director of the Health Medicine Institute in Lafayette, Calif., is a proponent of the therapy who says he has successfully treated hamstring pulls and tennis elbows within a week using the Photonic Stimulator.

"It's effective. It's simple. It's inexpensive. And it's safe. You can't say that about many medical therapies in this day and age," Saputo says.

A practitioner holds the Photonic Stimulator just above the skin's surface, where the treatment is needed. The amount of light emitted can be adjusted for the patient's age, weight and muscle mass.

Saputo says it took some time to learn how to use the device most effectively, especially in conjunction with the Thermal Image Processor, another device by Computerized Thermal Imaging that scans the body for "hot spots" where injury and pain are located.

"It's just knowing where to put the light and where to do the imaging so you know where the problems are, and you can get the maximum effect," Saputo says.

What To Do

To learn more about infrared light therapy, visit Computerized Thermal Imaging. For Aetna's take on the treatments, check this policy statement from the company.

SOURCES: Curtis Turchin, M.D., director, clinical sciences, Computerized Thermal Imaging Inc., Lake Oswego, Ore.; Len Saputo, M.D., director, Health Medicine Institute, Lafayette, Calif.
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