By Dava Stewart
Low level laser therapy (LLLT) has a wide array of applications. As a therapy with no known side effects and few contraindications, clinicians are experimenting with using it as a treatment for many types of conditions. One of the biggest issues with using LLLT successfully to improve patient outcomes is that there are so many types of lasers, parameters, and protocols. One area that has seen consistently positive results is the use of LLLT to treat post-surgical wounds.
Studies have examined the efficacy of LLLT to help wounds from oral surgery to heal; researchers have tested LLLT on wounds on rabbits; simulated wounds have been treated with LLLT; wounds as a result of carpal tunnel surgery have been encouraged to heal through LLLT treatments—the list could go on. While nearly all researchers agree that more studies are needed, the results continue to be positive.
In one particular study, scientists made surgical incisions on rabbits, then treated one group with LLLT and not the other. The results:
“Treating the surgical wounds with low level energy laser radiation proved to be useful and efficient because the primary healing was stimulated, the process ending in the 10th postoperative day.” 1
Another study observed 58 patients who had undergone surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome, a procedure which often results in a painful scar, according to the researchers. The patients were randomly divided into two groups—one group received postoperative LLLT and the other did not. After being monitored at one, three, and six months following surgery, 55.17 percent of the patients who did not have the therapy reported having a painful scar, while only 33.03 percent of those who had LLLT reported having a painful scar.2
The Journal of Athletic Training published an article in which researchers decided “to assess the putative effects of LLLT on healing using an experimental wound model.” Their results indicated “that LLLT is an effective modality to facilitate wound contraction of partial-thickness wounds.”3
Other researchers are not working to find out if LLLT works, but rather what parameters work most effectively.4
Despite all of the studies, however, problems still persist. One review of literature, performed and published by the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research in 2004, states:
“Human effects ascribed to lasers have often been the result of non-peer reviewed literature, anecdotal reports, uncontrolled studies, published abstracts, controlled studies in which the study methodology has been poorly described, as well as controlled studies with contradictory results. Well-controlled studies demonstrating wound healing are few.” 5
As always, the need for more thorough and carefully designed studies is critical. Insurance companies do not currently reimburse for LLLT treatments and cite the lack of peer-reviewed and controlled studies as the reason they consider it experimental. However, it’s hard to ignore the mounting anecdotal evidence. Taking into account the fact that LLLT has no known side effects, using the therapy will not harm patients, and may well improve healing.
1Calin MA, Calin MR, Coman T. “The Effect of Low Level Laser Therapy on Surgical Wound Healing.” Romanian Reports in Physics. 2010:62(3);617-627.
2Alves M, Araujo G. “Low-level laser therapy after carpal tunnel release.” Rev Bras Ortop. 2011:46(6).
3Baxter G, Hopkins J, McLoda T, Seegmiller J. “Low-Level Laser Therapy Facilitates Superficial Wound Healing in Humans: A Triple-Blind, Sham-Controlled Study.” J Athl Train. 2004:39(3);223-229.
4Depta F, Gal P, Harakalova M, et al. “Effect of equal daily doses achieved by different power densities of low-level laser therapy at 635 nm on open skin wound healing in normal and corticosteroid-treated rats.” Lasers Med Sci. 2009:24(4);539-547.
5Simon A. “Low Level Laser Therapy for Wound Healing: An Update.” Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research. http://www.ihe.ca/documents/ip22.pdf. Published October 2004. Accessed November 2014.