By Dava Stewart
According to the Arthritis Foundation, some 27 million people in the United States are affected by osteoarthritis. The degenerative condition is characterized by the breakdown of cartilage, most often in the hands, hips, and knees. Cartilage provides cushioning for the joints and allows for easy movement; its breakdown causes swelling, pain, and difficulty moving. Some sufferers are finding relief with low level laser therapy (LLLT) treatments, but studies show that the method of application and other factors may impact the effectiveness of the treatments.1
People are living longer, and the population overall is aging. Osteoarthritis occurs in 80 percent of people over the age of 75. There is no cure for osteoarthritis, and healthcare providers focus on trying to relieve the pain that characterizes the condition. Currently, pharmaceutical treatment is most often used, but there are serious side effects associated with each of the available treatments. LLLT has been used to ease the pain and inflammation of osteoarthritis for at least 10 years but is still considered an alternative therapy, in part because research studies have reached conflicting results.2
In 2007, there was a Cochrane Review of eight clinical trials involving LLLT and osteoarthritis. The review found that five of the clinical trials yielded positive results, and three did not. However, the review was withdrawn in 2008 because a substantial number of additional trials with positive results had been completed and could affect the conclusions of the review, and there were some small errors associated with the data of the original review.3
There is little doubt that the frequency, duration, and power used during LLLT treatments can change the outcome of the treatments. However, no side effects are associated with LLLT so, while there is a possibility that LLLT will help osteoarthritis patients, it is unlikely that it could cause any harm. Other studies have shown that LLLT is effective in reducing inflammation.4
As research continues, DCs have the opportunity to help patients with osteoarthritis enjoy a higher quality of life with little risk of side effects. Although most insurance companies consider LLLT an experimental treatment and do not reimburse for it, many patients do not have a problem paying out of pocket for a treatment that provides relief.
1Allen B, Elsaghier A, Ivanyi J, Nolan A. Distinctive western blot antibody patterns induced by infection of mice with individual strains of the Mycobacterium avium complex. National Center for Biotechnology Information. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1526646. Published July 1992. Accessed September 2014.
2Hamblin M. Can osteoarthritis be treated with light? Arthritis Research & Therapy. http://arthritis-research.com/content/15/5/120. Published October 2014. Accessed September 2014.
3Bie R, Brosseau L, Gam A, et al. Low level laser therapy (Classes III) for treating osteoarthritis. The Cochrane Library. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD002046.pub3/abstract;jsessionid=114A509446CA4050B4BD53A8E572C82E.f01t02. Published January 2007. Accessed September 2014.
4Aimbire F, Albertini R, Alves LP, et al. Anti-inflammatory effects of low-level laser therapy (LLLT) with two different red wavelengths (660 nm and 684 nm) in carrageenan-induced rat paw edema. National Center for Biotechnology Information. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17920925. Published November 2007. Accessed September 2014.