How Laser Therapy Works

By physiotherapist April Campbell

Laser Therapy at Treloar Physiotherapy Vancouver

When most of us hear the word “laser” we get an image of a beam of red light cutting through metal. What most people don’t know is that laser is often used in the rehabilitation setting. It isn’t the ‘hot laser’ that is used in industrial applications but is low level laser therapy (LLLT) or ‘cold laser therapy’ that is used assist in healing body tissues.

Laser therapy uses light to penetrate through the skin into tissues. It has been used by physiotherapists since the ‘80s for a wide range of conditions. Although it only penetrates a few millimetres, it can have a profound effect on tissue healing. It has been shown to aid in pain relief, reduce inflammation, increase blood flow, stimulate wound healing, stimulate tissue regeneration, and reduce scarring.

Research has shown that laser therapy can be a powerful anti-inflammatory that is equally effective to  anti-inflammatory medications.

Physiotherapists effectively use laser therapy for the  treatment of a multitude of acute and chronic soft  tissue injuries. These include but are not limited to tendinopathy (eg. tennis elbow and achilles tendonitis), rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, trigger points, thoracic pain, neck pain, jaw soreness, and wound healing.

1. Peplow et al. (2010). “Application of low level laser technologies for pain relief and wound healing: Overview of scientific bases”. Physical Therapy Reviews. 15(4): 253-285.
2. Bjordal et al. (2010). “The anti-inflammatory mechanism of low level laser therapy and its relevance for clinical use in physiotherapy.” Physical Therapy Reviews. 15(4): 286-293.

3. Bjordal et al. (2008). "A systematic review with procedural assessments and meta-analysis of Low Level Laser Therapy in lateral elbow tendinopathy (tennis elbow)." BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders. 9(75): 1471-2474.

4. Chow et al. (2009). "Efficacy of low-level laser therapy in the management of neck pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised placebo or active-treatment controlled trials." Lancet. 374(9705): 1897–1908.