Efficacy of low-level laser therapy in the management of neck pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized placebo or active-treatment controlled trials

“We show that low-level laser therapy (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. Our results show moderate statistical evidence for efficacy of LLLT in treatment of acute and chronic neck pain in the short and medium term.


Chronic pain is predicted to reach epidemic proportions in developed countries with ageing populations in the next 30 years. Chronic neck pain is a highly prevalent condition, affecting 10–24% of the population. Low-level laser therapy (LLLT) uses laser to aid tissue repairrelieve pain, and stimulate acupuncture points. Laser is light that is generated by high-intensity electrical stimulation of a medium, which can be a gas, liquid, crystal, dye, or semiconductor.

The light produced consists of coherent beams of single wavelengths in the visible to infrared spectrum, which can be emitted in a continuous wave or pulsed mode. Surgical applications of laser ablate tissue by intense heat and are different from LLLT, which uses light energy to modulate cell and tissue physiology to achieve therapeutic benefit without a macroscopic thermal effect (sometimes termed cold laser).

LLLT is non-invasive, painless, and can be easily administered in primary-care settings. Incidence of adverse effects is low and similar to that of placebo, with no reports of serious events.


Neck pain is a common and costly condition for which pharmacological management has limited evidence of efficacy and side-effects. Low-level laser therapy (LLLT) is a relatively uncommon, non-invasive treatment for neck pain, in which non-thermal laser irradiation is applied to sites of pain. We did a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials to assess the efficacy of LLLT in neck pain.


We searched computerized databases comparing efficacy of LLLT using any wavelength with placebo or with active control in acute or chronic neck pain. Effect size for the primary outcome, pain intensity, was defined as a pooled estimate of mean difference in change in mm on 100 mm visual analogue scale.


We identified 16 randomized controlled trials including a total of 820 patients. In acute neck pain, results of two trials showed a relative risk (RR) of 1·69 (95% CI 1·22–2·33) for pain improvement of LLLT versus placebo. Five trials of chronic neck pain reporting categorical data showed an RR for pain improvement of 4·05 (2·74–5·98) of LLLT.

Patients in 11 trials reporting changes in visual analogue scale had pain intensity reduced by 19·86 mm (10·04–29·68). Seven trials provided follow-up data for 1–22 weeks after completion of treatment, with short-term pain relief persisting in the medium term with a reduction of 22·07 mm (17·42–26·72). Side-effects from LLLT were mild and not different from those of placebo.


Reference: www.thelancet.com Vol 374 December 5, 2009 1897