Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Laser therapy redux and retraction

About a year and a half ago, I stumbled upon a veterinary therapy that I immediately put in the "woo-woo" column; the idea of using laser light to stimulate wound healing.  It seemed completely counterintuitive, given what I know about biology.  How could the stimulation of animal cells by low-level polarized light have any demonstrable effect?

The site where I found out about this -- Dr. Kathryn Okawa's website, Healing Arts Mobile Laser Therapy -- described the benefits without explaining how it worked (although there were plenty of testimonials that it did work).  I was reminded of other times I'd come across "alternative medical" therapies that are also lauded by testimonials -- and so I went no further.  I assumed that this was in the same category as homeopathy, i.e., scientifically unsupported.

I was wrong.

Dr. Okawa contacted me yesterday, and courteously (although firmly) encouraged me to do some research and reconsider my statement.  I did so.  As a result, I have taken down my original post, and would like to apologize to Dr. Okawa and others who use this modality -- I fell prey to the cardinal sin of skepticism, which is to keep one's feet planted firmly on one's own biases.  As I've said repeatedly to my Critical Thinking students, "That sounds right" and "That sounds wrong" are really dreadful guides to what is true and false, and despite knowing this (and teaching it every year, for cryin' in the sink) I leapt right from "I don't see how that could possibly work" to "That doesn't work."

As suggested by Dr. Okawa, I did some research, and found that low-level laser therapy has been found to be effective in controlled, double-blind experiments.  (Next time, it'd be better to do the research before writing the damn post...)  If you'd like to check out the sources, here are a few I came across:

Hopkins, McLoda, Seegmiller, and Baxter, "Low-Level Laser Therapy Facilitates Superficial Wound Healing in Humans: A Triple-Blind, Sham-Controlled Study," Journal of Athletic Training, July 2004

Demir, Balay,and Kirmap, "A Comparative Study of the Effects of Electrical Stimulation and Laser Treatment on Experimental Wound Healing in Rats," Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development, March 2004

Bolton, "Lasers in Wound Healing," Wounds, April 2004

Posten, Wrone, Dover, Arndt, Silapunt, and Aram, "Low-level Laser Therapy for Wound Healing: Mechanism and Efficacy," Journal of Dermatologic Surgery, March 2005


All of which is just a nice kick-in-the-pants reminder for me to be more careful, and practice what I preach re: being aware of one's own biases.

Thanks to Dr. Kathryn Okawa for setting me straight!

6 comments:

  1. well, shit, that has to feel pretty wild. finding something woo-woo that actually does what it is said it will do. VERY cool.

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  2. Thanks Gordon. I appreciate your response and apology.

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