What is Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT)?
A growing number of studies are demonstrating the therapeutic benefits of using Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT) for treating both acute injuries and chronic pain. The treatment uses a painless, non-invasive device that emits infrared or near infrared light in the form of low-level laser beams or light emitting diodes that penetrate the skin to stimulate cellular function.
Sports teams, military doctors and specialty pain clinics all use LLLT to relieve pain and accelerate healing in a variety of circumstances. It has proven to be particularly effective for treating neck and low-back pain, pain from injured muscles and joints and pain related to osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. While the exact reason for LLLT’s effectiveness is not yet known, researchers believe that three different factors may be responsible: reduction of inflammation, reduction in the conduction of painful nerve impulses and increase in ATP activity (the substance that fuels our cells).
More than 200 randomized controlled clinical trials have been performed on low level lasers. Dr. Roberta Chow and researchers at the Nerve Research Foundation of the Brain and Mind Research Institute at the University of Sydney performed a meta-analysis study on neck pain, which was published in The Lancet. The team studied 16 trials involving a total of 820 participating patients. Patients with acute neck pain were 70 percent more likely to experience pain relief from LLLT than placebo, while chronic neck pain sufferers were four times more likely to experience a reduction in pain from LLLT. The level of pain relief was found to be about 20 points on a scale from 1 to 100, with relief in seven of the studies lasting into the medium-term. Patients reported very mild, if any, side effects, which was comparable to the experience reported by participants in the placebo group.
Therapists of all types, including physicians, physical therapists and chiropractors are increasingly using LLLT as a complementary therapy in their practices due to its effectiveness. As the researchers write, the results of their study show that “LLLT reduces pain immediately after treatment in acute neck pain and up to 22 weeks after completion of treatment in patients with chronic neck pain.”
“Whatever the mechanism of action, clinical benefits of LLLT occur both when LLLT is used as monotherapy and in the context of a regular exercise and stretching program,” the researchers added. “In clinical settings, combination with an exercise program is probably preferable. The results of LLLT in this review compare favorably with other widely used therapies, and especially with pharmacological interventions, for which evidence is sparse and side-effects are common.”