By Dava Stewart
The “condition” most often treated with low level laser therapy (LLLT) is pain. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has cleared biostimulation lasers, more commonly known as low level lasers, for marketing as devices that provide temporary relief of pain.1
Of course, pain can be caused by any number of injuries or diseases.
Plantar fasciitis is painful, and so is fibromyalgia — both types of pain are treated successfully with LLLT. Separate studies have shown that non-specific neck and low-back pain can be effectively treated with LLLT.2,3 Additionally, temporary conditions such as sprains respond well to LLLT, as do chronic conditions like arthritis.4,5
The common denominator for people with all these different conditions is that they are suffering.
Many conditions that cause pain involve inflammation of some kind. For example, osteoarthritis is characterized by inflammation of the synovial membrane, among other symptoms.6 When LLLT is delivered at a specific dosage, patients experience some relief from the pain caused by that inflammation. Studies have not concluded that LLLT can slow the damage osteoarthritis causes, but for patients, less pain — with no side effects — is a positive outcome.
Fibromyalgia is a poorly understood condition, but people who have been diagnosed with it understand one thing all too clearly: It is painful. Traditional treatment plans include drugs often used to treat depression and/or exercise. Alternatively, LLLT has been shown to be an effective treatment.7 Studies are ongoing, but results indicate that LLLT is a viable treatment option.
Whereas conditions such as osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia are chronic and long-term, LLLT is also used successfully to treat temporary, short-term injuries, like those caused by sports.
Many sports-related injuries involve damage to and inflammation of soft tissue, such as tendons, ligaments, and muscles. Achilles tendinopathy, for example, usually involves swelling of the Achilles tendon but is considered non-inflammatory in nature. Experts consider the condition to be a “failed healing response.”8
Eccentric exercises are one traditional treatment for Achilles tendinopathy, and it is a generally successful treatment option. However, at least one study has concluded that using both LLLT and eccentric exercises leads to faster healing.9 And as with any painful condition, faster healing is a positive aspect for patients.
In each of the studies cited in this article, the power density, whether or not the laser was pulsed or continuous, and the duration of treatments made a difference in the outcome. Understanding all of the parameters associated with LLLT is just as important as understanding what conditions can be effectively treated.
1U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Radiation-Emitting Products. FDA. http://www.fda.gov/radiation-emittingproducts/resourcesforyouradiationemittingproducts/ucm252761.htm#7. Updated April 2011. Accessed June 2014.
2Chow R T, Barnsley L. Systematic review of the literature of low-level laser therapy (LLLT) in the management of neck pain. U.S. National Library of Medicine. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0022082/. Published 2005. Accessed June 2014.
3Djavid GE, Ghasemi M, Hasan-Zadeh H, Mehrdad R, Pouryaghoub G, Sotoodeh-Manesh A. In chronic low back pain, low level laser therapy combined with exercise is more beneficial than exercise alone in the long term: a randomised trial. National Center for Biotechnology Information. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17725472. Published 2007. Accessed June 2014.
4Apostolos Stergioulas. Journal of Clinical Laser Medicine & Surgery. April 2004, 22(2): 125-128. http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/104454704774076181.
5Brosseau L, de Bie R, Gam A, Harman K, Morin M, Shea B, Tugwell P, Welch V, Wells G. Low level laser therapy for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis: a metaanalysis. National Center for Biotechnology Information. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10955339. Published 2000. Accessed June 2014.
6Albertini R, Alves A, Carvalho P, Junior E, Junior J, Ligeiro A, Santos S, Vieira R. Effect of low-level laser therapy on the expression of inflammatory mediators and on neutrophils and macrophages in acute joint inflammation. Arthritis Research & Therapy. http://arthritis-research.com/content/15/5/R116. Published March 2013. Accessed June 2014.
7Fréz A R, Nicolau R A, Ruaro J A, Ruaro M B. Low-level laser therapy to treat fibromyalgia. Springer Link. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10103-014-1566-8. Published May 2014. Accessed June 2014.
8Alfredson H, Cook J. A treatment algorithm for managing Achilles tendinopathy: new treatment options. National Center for Biotechnology Information. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2658946/#!po=27.4194. Published April 2007. Accessed June 2014.
9Aarskog R, Bjordal J, Lopes-Martins R, Stergioula M, Stergioulas A. Effects of Low-Level Laser Therapy and Eccentric Exercises in the Treatment of Recreational Athletes With Chronic Achilles Tendinopathy. The American Journal of Sports Medicine. http://ajs.sagepub.com/content/36/5/881.short. Published February 2008. Accessed June 2014.