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New laser speeds therapy for repetitive stress injuries.

A new technique for treating repetitive stress injuries (RSI) - A $50-billion-a-year scourge of industrial workers, dentists, athletes, and others involved in repetitive arm or leg activities - is being introduced in the United States by LaserMedics, Inc., a Stafford, Texas company.

The most frequent form of RSI is carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), a painful and debilitating wrist disorder caused by repetitive hand motions. CTS accounted for nearly 48 percent of work-related injuries in 1990, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It also produces losses of $29,000 per employee in medical treatments and lost wages among computer operators, assembly line and meat packing employees, garment workers, and others whose work involves strain to the tendons forming the carpal tunnel in the wrist. With it has come a plague of legal cases resulting in average awards of $50,000 and/or larger fines by the Occupational Safety and Health Agency.

LaserMedics claims that its product, called the MicroLight 830, will significantly change this alarming situation. Using a low-energy laser non-surgical applicator, it is able to reach the tendons and surrounding tissue underlying the skin, stimulating nerves and increasing blood flow, which reduces swelling. Depending on the severity of damage, treatment may require several treatments per week until the reduction of swelling allows the tendons to glide freely within the carpal tunnel without compressing the median nerve.

The portable, rechargeable MicroLight 830 looks similar to a battery-operated flashlight, and is licensed from CB Svendsen A/C, a Danish company that has granted LaserMedics exclusive distribution rights in the Western Hemisphere until April 2002. Svendsen low-level lasers have been sold in 22 foreign countries to doctors, physical therapists, dermatologists, and veterinarians to expedite wound healing, pain reduction, and relief from musculoskeletal inflammation. It is believed to be significantly advanced compared with present CTS treatments, which involve surgery, drugs, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, physical therapies, and application of cold or hot compresses.

General Motors (GM) Corporation, which has been conducting a study of the Microlight 830 since May 1992, recently began a new 32-week double-blind, controlled clinical study of 200 employees suffering from CTS, conducted at its new Hand Center in Flint, Michigan. Beyond this study, Dr. Chadwick F. Smith, professor of orthopedics at the University of Southern California, continues to conduct a course to train GM medical and health care employees, in conjunction with Dr. Wayne Good, director of the CTS Program for GM.

Another important study was conducted by the Mayo Clinic, which involved a 10-week double-blind neurophysiological study on 33 normal people. Preliminary analysis of this study shows that application of the Microlight 830 produced significant change in functions of the median nerve, which is the nerve damaged in CTS. GM and the Mayo Clinic have agreed to allow their studies to be used for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval.

Cost of the Microlight 830 unit is about $9,000. While the number of 33-second applications and other facets of individual treatment will vary with the severity of the injury, previous treatment, and the patient's other medical characteristics, LaserMedics says that study clinicians indicate treatments using the MicroLight 830 should be about $30 per visit with an average of four visits per patient. This is significantly less expensive and less extensive than any other treatment methodology currently practiced by most industrial medical clinics.

Doctors, dentists, and therapists have been experimenting with the MicroLight 830 to accelerate the treatment of wounds, acne, and temporal mandibular joint problems, a painful upper jaw tendonitis resulting from injury or nervous disorders.

While it awaits approval by FDA, LaserMedics is selling the MicroLight 830 to veterinarians for the treatment of race horses suffering from check ligament and tendonitis. Mr. Michael Barbour, president and chief executive officer of LaserMedics, Inc., points out that aside from the current market of 25,000 veterinarians, the company is planning to approach 200,000 medical doctors, 100,000 dentists, 125,000 physical therapists, and 50,000 chiropractors.
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Publication:Health Care Financing Review
Date:Dec 22, 1992
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