“Completely Researched and Scientifically Proven”

Laser Treatment "Heals" Damaged Backs? In What Universe?

Newspaper advertisements really have changed, haven’t they? Where before the big, full-color front-section ads pitched department store purses and clothing or car tires, now they are selling full-blown medical cures. In Sunday’s Salt Lake Tribune, Utah Spine and Disc exhorts: “Live Pain Free, Free Yourself From Chronic Pain, Whether it’s Back Pain or Arthritis, Dr. Meadors Can Help You.”

The ad goes on to say: “Completely researched and scientifically proven to be effective, the Newlife Signature Laser provides soothing relief from many kinds of chronic pain, from Lower Lumbar and Sciatic Pain to the treatment of painful Arthritis. The research is conclusive: Laser treatment heals damaged tissue in the back.”1

The “1” footnote on the half-page advertisement presumably refers to proof outlining how Laser Treatment “heals” damaged back tissues. Only problem is, there is no corresponding footnote explaining the truth of this statement.

Maybe that’s because – just an educated guess here – there actually is no proof that this surely expensive therapy does what the ad claims it does?

It’s unclear just what particular kind of laser Utah Spine and Disc is promoting. The ad mentions “LLT Approved” devices. Perhaps they meant “LLLT (Low Level Laser Therapy), instead? If so:

A 2007  study encompassing six different randomized clinical trials found that “there was no difference between LLLT and comparison groups for pain-related disability”. Unless Dr. Meadows and company has a new trial showing drastically different results, why would he be allowed to advertise this “clinically researched and scientifically proven” method of back pain treatment?

Here’s what the FDA says about LLLT, also known as Biostimulation Lasers (note the emphasis on “temporary” pain relief’):

Biostimulation lasers, also called low level laser therapy (LLLT), cold lasers, soft lasers, or laser acupuncture devices, were cleared for marketing by FDA through the Premarket Notification/510(k) process as adjunctive devices for the temporary relief of pain. These clearances were based on the presentation of clinical data to support such claims. FDA will consider similar applications for these and other claims with the decision to require clinical data being made on an individual basis, taking into consideration both the device and the claim.

The controversial 510(k) process is used for products that the FDA determines to be a lower risk to consumers because they’re similar to devices that have already been approved. This speeds up the approval process – typically to just 90 days – getting devices to market quicker while sometimes foregoing requirements for thorough clinical trials. But the program has been under fire by critics who say the accelerated FDA approval timeframe can compromise patient safety.

My guess – and it’s just a guess, I’ve never tried laser therapy for back pain – is that these patients would be be better served by employing exercise and/or behavioral counseling than they would be paying Utah Spine and Disc for treatment that the FDA says only leads to temporary pain relief (contrary to the unbelievably misleading ad, which claims to “heal damaged tissues in the back.”)

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