Treating Chronic Pain With Lasers

By: Madora Pennington, PNN Columnist

Months after surgery for my badly broken foot, the last scab finally fell off, revealing to my horror that the surgical incision had not closed. I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), a genetic condition that prevents my body from building proper collagen. Poor wound healing is a common complication for people like me.

A search for a treatment that would help led me to Dr. Harold Kraft, a Southern California anesthesiologist who has built an entire practice around using high-powered lasers. Kraft’s main focus is pain --- from sciatica and back pain to neuropathy, neuralgia and myalgia, as well as post-surgical pain and soft tissue injuries.

Another thing lasers do is facilitate wound healing. After a few appointments, my wound closed but appeared fragile and Frankenstein-looking. With more treatments, it rapidly filled in, coming to look smooth, strong and, surprisingly, pretty.

I was eager to try laser for my Ehlers-Danlos aches as well. My strange body seems to sustain soft-tissue injuries from the ordinary tasks of life, draining my energy and taxing my nervous system. From the laser treatments, I experienced relief I had never before felt.

Kraft has learned a lot from administering over 20,000 treatments on patients. He noticed Ehlers-Danlos patients got exceptional pain relief from the laser treatments, and came to find that nearly all are super-responders.

“About 90% of EDS patients respond to laser treatment, and get faster and more profound pain relief than typical patients,” Kraft notes.

Light Amplification

The word “laser" is an acronym for Light Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation. No longer limited to science fiction movies, lasers are now a part of everyday life. You’ve probably seen lasers used as pointers during presentations, as bar code scanners, and in DVD players. In medicine, lasers can be used for precision cutting, such as in LASIK vision surgery or for excising a tumor. For cosmetic purposes, a laser can improve skin imperfections or whiten teeth.

Light particles, or photons, from the laser pass through the skin and stimulate the cells’ mitochondria to release anti-inflammatory modulators, nerve and vascular growth factor. This causes healing and repair.

Kraft came to having a pain practice late in life. He had retired from a long career of performing anesthesia during surgery and left medicine entirely for the business world, developing software for data aggregation. All that changed when his wife took their long-suffering pug for a new treatment.

Harley, a most beloved dog, had trouble walking. He had not benefited from joint supporting supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin, nor acupuncture and doggie physical therapy. But after four treatments of high dose laser from a veterinarian, Harley could walk again. The Kraft’s were elated and also intrigued.

Kraft convinced a family friend who had back pain to see that same veterinarian for lasering, even though she is a human. Like Harley, she found pain relief.

Seeing the promise of what this could offer, Kraft began training in laser techniques and got laser machines of his own. He went back to practicing medicine, treating pain exclusively with lasers. Kraft uses Class IV lasers, which are the most powerful available. He employs them at high doses, in order to do the most good for patients. Great care must be taken in this endeavor.

“The more power you use, the more care you need to operate and the more likely that misapplication can cause harm,” Kraft says. “There is no discomfort during treatment, although the patient may feel the heat from the laser. It is powerful, non-invasive, and the results can be permanent or long-lasting.”

Kraft says about 7 out of 10 patients get significant improvement, including chronic pain sufferers who failed at other treatments. Genetics seem to play a factor in how well a patient responds. Some are just faster than others. A small percentage respond immediately. Most experience benefit between 4 and 10 treatments, and only about 30% do not respond after 14 or so treatments.

What does the science say about laser therapy? While there isn’t an abundance of research on the healing power of Class IV laser, some exist and are worth noting:

Chronic and acute pain are notoriously difficult to treat, especially in an era when fewer doctors are willing to treat pain or prescribe opioid medication. Pain patients have fewer options.

Dr. Kraft imagines a world where patients will have easy access to laser therapy at their primary care doctor or physical therapist. In addition to running his busy practice, Dr. Kraft has invented an improved laser, one that would optimize treatment regimen. He hopes to have it to market in two years.

Madora Pennington writes about Ehlers-Danlos and life after disability at Her work has also been featured in the Los Angeles Times.

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*Disclaimer: Although welcome for treatment, these patients are excluded from offers:
1) MEDICARE, MEDICAID, TRICARE, and other government healthcare program participants and 2) personal injury and worker's compensation claimants.