The Benefits of Low-level Laser Therapy

Low-level laser therapy is becoming ever more popular as a highly effective, non-invasive treatment for the management of a variety of conditions.

Low-level laser therapy (LLLT) has proven to be highly effective in treating a wide range of conditions, musculoskeletal injuries, degenerative diseases, arthritis, joint replacement, rehabilitation, back pain, ankle injuries, knee injuries, whiplash, certain dermatological conditions, cracked nipples, and sinusitis.


The proposed mechanism of action of laser therapy is associated with the ability of the cell to absorb the photon (the fundamental particle of visible light) and transform the energy into adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is a form of energy that the cell uses to function. The cell must absorb the light energy for this process to occur. We know that certain cells have the capacity to absorb light energy as when the skin reacts to sunlight. Production of ATP is essential to cell function. This means laser energy merely promotes normal cellular function rather than changing cell function. LLLT speeds up the recovery process by delivering light energy (photons) to the cells. It is a non-invasive procedure, meaning that it does not require a surgical incision. LLLT takes a series of treatments, usually eight to 20, depending on the severity and duration of the condition.


  1. Beta-endorphins are produced and released. These are morphine-like substances naturally produced by cells that inhibit the sensation of pain. Most chronic pain patients report that they sleep better after their first treatment as a result of this effect.
  2. Cortisol production is increased. This enables the body to control stress associated with trauma or disease process.
  3. Circulation and lymphatic drainage are increased.
  4. Chromophores are light-absorbing photoacceptor molecules that play a key role in converting harvested light energy to chemical energy to use in cellular functions.
  5. Pain relief.
  6. Reduction of swelling and inflammation.
  7. Increased cell membrane permeability resulting in an influx of change-dependent Ca2+ ions that can lead to an increase in respiration, resulting in the increase of ATP production.
  8. The formation of new blood vessels is increased.


Joint conditions

  • TMJ (jaw bone joint)
  • Joints with osteoarthritis
  • Headaches and neck pain, injuries to knee meniscus
  • Bursitis of hip, shoulder, knee and elbow
  • Chondromalacia patellae
  • Shoulder joint sprain including rotator cuff Soft-tissue injuries
  • Disc bulges and herniated discs
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Tendonitis
  • Golfer’s and tennis elbow
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Muscle sprains
  • Ligament sprains
  • Myofascial trigger points
  • Chronic non-healing wounds
  • Venous ulcers
  • Cracked nipples – breastfeeding
  • Scar tissue reduction

Neurogenic pain

  • Pinched nerves
  • Sciatic

Sinusitis and rhinosinusitis

If patients receive LLLT for four weeks, it improves the symptoms. Treatments should be given 3 x per week for four weeks.

Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis with LLLT

There is some experience in treating osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis with LLLT. Much of the pain ascribed to arthritis results from activating trigger points in the involved musculature and is actually secondary to tightening of the attached musculature and bringing the inflamed or destroyed joint surfaces more closely together. Activating the involved trigger points alleviates much, if not all, of the pain. It also helps to explain the sensitivity of arthritic joints to decrease in barometric pressure and other weather changes. Your physio will also work out an exercise programme.


The LLLT unit is a handheld device used by the physiotherapist and is often the size of a flashlight. The laser is placed directly over the injured area for 30 seconds to several minutes, depending on the size of the area being treated, and the dose provided by the LLLT unit.

Once the light energy passes through the layers of skin and reaches the target area, it is absorbed and interacts with the light-sensitive elements in the cell. When cells absorb this light energy, it initiates a series of events in the cell that is theorised to eventually result in normalising damaged or injured tissue, reduction in pain, inflammation, oedema and an overall reduction in healing time by increasing intracellular metabolism. LLLT will increase cell growth, cell regeneration, tissue activity and anti-inflammatory reaction. It will also reduce swelling, fibrous tissue formation and stimulate nerve function and collagen deposition.


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The Benefits of Low-level Laser Therapy

Dr Frances le Roux
About The Author
- BSC, MSC, PHD. She is a registered physiotherapist in Fish Hoek, Cape Town, South Africa. She has a special interest in music/medicine based on her research regarding music and pain, immune systems and spiritual well-being. She is a member of the International Music in Medicine Association and is on the International Editorial Board of Music and Medicine Interdisciplinary Journal. Her books Music is Healing and recently published Music and Babies are available from: