Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT) has been used for around thirty years to treat both acute and chronic pain. The mechanism behind the use of LLLT is assumed to be the transfer of energy from the near-infrared light wavelength to cells in the deep tissues of the body, such as spinal discs, and the musculoskeletal system. The strengths of the lasers used, and the duration of treatment vary between difference clinics, practitioners, manufacturers, and in research trials, making justification and assessment of the treatment inherently complex.
Does it work?
The evidence for the use of LLLT to treat neck pain remains, however, inconclusive, despite research continuing to be published and reviewed each year. Recent meta-analyses by the Cochrane Society into the use of LLLT in osteoarthritis and lower-back pain offered differing recommendations, with the former supporting the use of LLLT and the latter determining that evidence was inconclusive and, therefore, LLLT was unjustified. Other reviews have reached similar conclusions, such as the 2007 assessment by the American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society. However, there has been fierce disagreement from clinics offering this treatment, and a whole raft of research seemingly funded by manufacturers of LLLT equipment, and published in faux medical journals that appear to simple media marketing platforms that one can only assume are not peer reviewed.
Laser Therapy for Disc Herniation
Evidence does appear to exist for the use of LLLT in certain conditions causing neck pain (Chow, 2009), but has shown mixed results in cases of lumbar disc herniation (Unlu, 2008, Ay, 2010), although problems exist with the evidence in the latter trial. The treatment is FDA-approved, but they continue to advise caution in patients considering LLLT due to low levels of evidence. More recently the levels of quality research supporting the use of low level laser therapy for neck pain have increased with trials published this year by Konstantinovic, et al. There have been no reported side-effects or adverse events with this therapy and the lasers used do not damage or heat tissue. Treatment should, of course, be carried out by a licensed and qualified practitioner, and is increasingly available from chiropractors, physical therapists and specific low-level laser clinics in North America. Patients should discuss the treatment with their physician first as there may be other factors to consider when deciding whether to use low level laser therapy for neck pain.