By Matt Markus
College Sports Journal
BETHLEHEM, PA. — The most-feared team in college football right now is not Alabama.
It’s not North Dakota State, the two-time FCS National Champions.
It is not even Texas A&M with its flashy Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel.
The team everyone in football is afraid of the most is a group called ATA Revitalization Institute, based out of Easton, Pennsylvania.
ATA is a world leader in the science and clinical applications of photobiomodulation, also known as low-level light therapy or cold laser.
They have developed and trademarked techniques that have aided in the recovery process of muscle, bone, joint and soft tissue injuries. And their work has been paramount in getting athletes back onto the field faster than traditional measures.
Why are they so feared?
The answer is simple: job security.
Athletic trainers and sports medicine personnel are afraid that this therapy technique will render them obsolete.
The fact is that this laser technology will enhance what a physical therapist can do, not replace one.
The problem is the longer the medicine world shuns this technology, the more athletes are unable to be treated to the fullest.
How many careers need to end before the world catches on?
While many doctors hide behind a “lack of research” and “not wanting to risk patient safety”, the fact remains that there is an incredible amount of research available.
NASA and Harvard Medical School are both researching and testing this technology.
Laser technology is FDA approved for Carpal Tunnel and chronic neck pain, yet doctors refuse to admit it may be helpful in other areas.
This is a double-standard as oftentimes a drug that was developed for one malady is used to help another, such as a depression drug that is also prescribed for lupus or MS.
Photobiomodulation is a method to increase blood flow and encourage faster healing. This helps to reduce inflammation, increase oxygen delivery and waste removal from injured tissue.
While other methods such as hot soaks or ultrasounds can cause further damage to already injured tissue, the cold laser works without heating the tissue.
This helps speed recovery and is very cost-effective compared to other methods.
Laser therapy has been used in Europe for nearly 5 decades, but it was not until 2002 that it was approved by the FDA here in the United States.
It is not widely used in American sports as teams and leagues have not caught on for fear of a repeat of the unemployment line.
Athletic trainers and physical therapists are afraid that they would no longer be necessary if universities and professional teams employed tanning bed-like lasers to “fix” their athletes.
The thing is – that’s not really how it would work. The human element is still necessary.
ATA founder Tonie Chicchi has been a pioneer with the development of photobiomodulation in the Lehigh Valley and she is steadfast that the human element is still vital to the treatment of athletes.
“This is a method that we want to teach the trainers and physical therapists to do on their own,” she said. “This will only enhance the great work they are already doing with athletes today.”
ATA staff have been on-site at the Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia, providing round the clock treatment for professional golfers.
They have helped NFL, MLB and NBA players on an individual basis but they have found that working with a team’s medical staff is an arduous task.
“We were working on an Olympic track athlete and we were trying to show her trainer what we were doing,” said Chicchi. “After being asked 3 times by the athlete herself to pay attention, the trainer leaned in said ‘oh, yeah, ok, got it’ and walked away. It was frustrating to me and the athlete.”
This was one example of multiple experiences that ATA has seen throughout sports – stubborn medical personnel who either feel their methods are better, or are afraid their methods are not.
While those examples are frustrating, there are countless examples of the good they have been able to do with athletes from all across the sports world.
Former NFL kicker Ryan Longwell was having tremendous pain in his plant leg. After meeting with ATA Revitalization, that pain was gone.
NBA star Richard Hamilton was successfully treated by ATA and got back on the court quicker for the Chicago Bulls.
Retired NBA player and coach John Lucas invited ATA to Houston to demonstrate their techniques.
Lucas himself was treated for chronic injuries in his arm and hip. The results he found in just one treatment were outstanding.
“The reduction in pain and swelling was remarkable,” said Lucas. “I have never witnessed a device or treatment that could do what theirs can.”
Lucas found that athletes at his camp were able to get back on the court when they would have been otherwise sidelined.
“I think their device would be of tremendous benefit to high school, college, and professional athletes in all sports who sustain injuries, are recovering from surgery, or need to recover after a tough game or match.”
The biggest success story for ATA is also the most secret.
They were able to help a certain athlete get back on the field when multiple surgeries and other methods were not enough.
After an entire year away from the NFL, and numerous questions of if he would be able to throw again, Peyton Manning got wind of the work ATA was doing.
Having to work in secret as he had not signed a contract yet, Tonie Chicchi used her cold laser method and assisted in getting Manning to a place he needed to be.
After agreeing to a contract with the Broncos, Peyton Manning threw for 37 touchdowns, second-most in his career.
While they have been able to show great results in various injuries throughout the body, their work with concussions has shown to be the most remarkable.
ATA Protocol combines trademarked MR (Muscle Recovery) therapy techniques and patent-pending Photobiomodulation procedure to reduce inflammation, assist in repairing damaged tissue, reduce scar tissue and increase cognitive ability.
They have found that their painless procedure can alleviate concussion side effects in as little as 24 hours.
They have also found that not only has their procedure retarded the concussion symptoms, they have been able to return the brain tissue to pre-injury ability and levels.
They have been able to get the brain activity to pre-injury levels, despite the brain trauma caused by concussions.
After reading that, why does any school in America not have this device and the accompanying protocol?
The current protocol of rest, restricted activity, no ocular stimulation, pain meds and sleep aides are mediocre at best.
Patients with concussion syndrome exhibit different levels of cognitive distress, light sensitivity, diminished motor skills and disruptive sleep patterns. Patients report psychological symptoms as well; multiple levels of mood changes, aggressive behavior, depression and melancholy.
ATA Revitalization Institute has a painless, non-invasive treatment with no reported side effects in almost 50 years of use.
It is an easy safe and effective way to give our patients an option that will help them and their families through this sometimes debilitating condition.
ATA has seen concussion patients with 33 percentile points increase in cognitive development in 6 weeks and have seen an increase of 74 percentile points in just 3 weeks.
ATA believes in the theory that if cold laser proves to provide objective improvement in concussion recovery, would it also go on to preventing or at least slowing the development of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) later in the athlete’s life?
If true, what would it mean for the post-career life of NFL players? Would it not make for a greater quality of life? Could the argument not be made that it could possibly put an end to senseless tragedies such as the suicides of Junior Seau and Andre Waters?
How many players need to take their own lives?
How many athletes need to retire because their bodies are not as capable as their minds want them to be?
How many athletes are being told there is nothing more we can do for your injury?
With the great work that ATA Revitalization has already done and can continue to do, it may finally be the end to all of those questions.
Student athletes can return to the field, and the classroom quicker.
Professional athletes would miss less time and potentially lengthen their careers.
Athletes could retire on their terms and lead long, healthy lives upon the conclusion of their playing careers.
It is all possible. But first, ATA Protocol needs to be accepted by the sports medicine community.
It also needs to be accepted for what it can do to enhance the great work of trainers and physical therapists instead of being seen as another machine taking a job away from humans.
That has never been and will never be the case.
ATA has seen success in areas outside of sports injuries as well.
They have worked on patients as young as a few years old to those well into their 80s.
They have been doing research into the affect cold laser may have on patients with Parkinson’s.
Recently they helped a young boy with Muscular Dystrophy. The 10% curvature of his spine was corrected with ATA Protocol and he now stands 50 seconds from his starting time of 10 seconds before ATA treatments.
While that may not sound like much, put yourself in the shoes of his parents who had not been able to imagine him standing for any length of time.
ATA Revitalization has a motto of “Where Treatment Means Recovery.” For many, it may also mean hope, hope that before now never existed.
If the sports world would open up and let ATA in the game, that hope can become reality.