If your injury caused pain and inflammation, you may benefit from working with a health care professional, such as a physical therapist or chiropractor, to help you recover. Your therapist may use a variety of treatments to help reduce your pain and improve blood flow to inflamed tissue. One such treatment is called cold laser therapy. Cold laser therapy is also known as low-level laser therapy (LLLT).
This article helps you understand what cold laser therapy is and how to use it to help treat injuries. It will also examine research surrounding cold laser therapy to help you decide whether research should be done for your specific injury.
What is Cold Laser Therapy?
Cold laser therapy is a treatment that applies low-intensity light to your body, usually on injured or inflamed tissue. Low-intensity light, known as a “cold laser,” is thought to improve blood flow and reduce pain and inflammation in injured tissue.
Cold laser therapy should not be confused with the high-intensity lasers that surgeons use to cut tissue. The light-emitting diodes in cold laser therapy are not strong enough to cut tissue, but they are strong enough to penetrate your skin and promote healing after an injury.
How Cold Laser Therapy Works
Cold laser therapy uses a wand containing multiple light-emitting diodes to introduce photons into your skin. When photons enter your skin and travel through injured tissue, chemical changes occur in the cell’s mitochondria, signaling to increase the production of adenosine triphosphate. In theory, this leads to active healing of these tissues.
But not just any light can make this healing process happen. Low-intensity laser therapy, usually at wavelengths of 600 to 1,000 nanometers, is best at increasing blood flow and improving the healing of injured tissue.
Types of Diseases Treated by Cold Therapy
Your healthcare provider may use cold laser therapy to treat a variety of conditions. These may include but are not limited to:
- carpal tunnel syndrome
- ligament sprain
- Muscle strain
- joint pain
- frozen shoulder
- Soft tissue injuries and burns
Any soft tissue injury that causes pain or inflammation in the body may benefit from the use of cold laser therapy.
Advantages and disadvantages of cold laser therapy
When deciding on a final cold treatment for your injury, your healthcare provider should explain the goals of the treatment to you. Additionally, they should discuss with you the expected benefits and risks associated with cold laser therapy.
The advantages of cold laser therapy include:
- Treatment is not invasive.
- Treatment is usually painless.
- Cold laser therapy can help your wound heal faster.
The risks of cold laser treatment are small, but you should be aware of them. Disadvantages of completing the program may include:
- You may need multiple treatments to get a positive result.
- Treatment can be expensive, especially if your health insurance doesn’t cover it.
- Some studies have shown that cold laser treatment is no better than placebo (treatment with no therapeutic value) for musculoskeletal injuries.
Having realistic expectations about treating injuries with cold lasers can help you make an informed decision about whether to receive treatment.
what to expect
If you and your healthcare provider choose to use cold laser therapy on your injury, it helps to know what to expect during treatment. During cold laser treatment, your affected body parts are exposed, and you and your healthcare provider may wear special goggles to protect your eyes during treatment.
Then, touch a small stick with a light-emitting diode to your skin and hold it for a few seconds. The light will hit your affected skin and injured area for about 30 to 60 seconds.
Does it hurt?
You should not feel pain during the treatment, and the light does not generate heat. Tell your provider if you experience any pain or symptoms and they may need to reposition your body or stop treatment.
You should also not feel pain or discomfort after treatment.
Many healthcare providers will have you perform gentle exercises specific to your condition to help improve range of motion (a joint’s ability to perform a range of motions) and strength in your affected body part. Remember that low-level laser therapy should be part of your overall recovery experience; research supports sports and sports for many musculoskeletal injuries.
When choosing to have cold laser therapy, you should be aware of the research surrounding the therapy. There is some research supporting the use of low-level lasers for back pain, neck pain, and tendonitis.
A 2015 meta-analysis (examining data from numerous independent studies) found that cold laser therapy can have a positive effect on reducing pain in people with low back pain. However, studies have not shown an increase in functional movement.
Another meta-analysis found that joint pain was reduced with cold laser therapy. Likewise, no benefit was found to improve the overall functioning of the treated patients.
If you have tendinitis (inflammation of the tendon that connects the muscle to the bone) or tenosynovitis (inflammation of the tendon and the sheath around it), your healthcare practitioner may choose to treat you with laser treatment.
A 2021 meta-analysis of the use of cold lasers for tendinopathy concluded: “There is very low to moderate quality evidence that photobiomodulation (cold lasers) can be used as an independent and/or adjunctive therapy for tendinopathy.”
There are several scientific studies that suggest that cold laser therapy may help relieve pain in some cases. However, it may not be effective in improving function in musculoskeletal disorders. (Perhaps the placebo effect worked in some studies. Maybe due to patients getting any some kind of treatment for their condition. )
Please discuss with your healthcare provider before starting any cold laser treatment for your condition.
Does cold laser therapy work?
There is some evidence that cold laser therapy can help reduce pain, but cold laser therapy as a stand-alone treatment generally does not improve functional mobility.
Overview of Pain Management
If you have pain or limited mobility due to soft tissue, joint, or tendon injuries, you may benefit from working with a physical therapist to resume normal activities. Your therapist may use a variety of treatments, one of which may be cold laser therapy.
Cold laser therapy, also known as low-intensity light therapy, is a treatment modality used to improve healing and blood flow to injured tissue. This is a painless procedure that can be done as part of a comprehensive rehabilitation program that includes exercise and functional mobility.
Cold laser therapy is a painless procedure that involves introducing specific wavelengths of light into injured tissue. Light produces a photobiomodulation effect that increases blood flow and accelerates cellular processes to improve healing. If you are injured, ask your doctor if cold laser therapy is right for your specific situation.
Physical Rehabilitation: An Overview
Experiencing chronic pain affects all aspects of life. Thankfully, there are many different options that can help reduce and manage pain. Although research on cold laser treatment is limited, published data suggest that it may reduce pain in some cases, but may not do much to improve function.
Pain management is often multifaceted, so discuss other rehabilitation techniques with your healthcare provider. They may decide to combine cold laser therapy with other treatments, including conventional physical therapy, medication, and different medical procedures.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much does a cold laser treatment cost?
A typical cold laser treatment costs between $75 and $100, and most insurance plans don’t cover the service because it’s considered experimental.
How long does it take for cold laser treatment to work?
Most people experience relief after three to five cold laser treatments. Some conditions require up to 20 treatments to achieve full results.