Low-Level Laser Therapy for Back Pain
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 Low Level Laser Therapy for spinal stenosis really help back pain? Read on to find out.
Effectiveness of LLLT
The evidence for the use of LLLT in spinal stenosis and back 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and published in faux medical journals that appear to be simple media marketing platforms that one can only assume are not peer reviewed.
LLLT for Neck Pain
Evidence does appear to exist for the use of LLLT in certain conditions causing neck pain (Chow, 2009), and has shown mixed results in cases of lumbar disc herniation (Unlu, 2008, Ay, 2010). The treatment is FDA-approved, but they continue to advise caution in patients considering LLLT due to low levels of evidence. 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 licenced 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 if LLLT is appropriate for them.