Thursday, August 16, 2007

Stumbled across this article from Yahoo News on a chiropractor boasting the use of "Cold Laser Therapy" or as it is often referred to as - "Low Level Laser Therapy". The article itself was what you'd expect. Mostly self promotion of the DC's practice. That's ok. Good for him in getting the article done. I had a few questions regarding some claims and comments made. Here are some examples:

For carpal tunnel syndrome especially, the treatment helps to alleviate pain associated with repetitive motion in hands and wrists.
Cold laser therapy speeds up the healing process after injury to the wrists and hands.
Hmm, I thought. Is this his opinion, or is there good research to back this up. I've researched LLLT in the past and found that most studies were negative in it's use. But this was for musculoskeletal pain and balance improvement only. I don't know about carpal tunnel specifically. So I looked and here is what I found:

Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation: July 2002 83(7)

OBJECTIVE: To investigate whether real or sham low-level laser therapy (LLLT) plus microamperes transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation (TENS) applied to acupuncture points significantly reduces pain in carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). DESIGN: Randomized, double-blind, placebo-control, crossover trial. Patients and staff administered outcome measures blinded. SETTING: Outpatient, university-affiliated Department of Veterans Affairs medical center. PARTICIPANTS: Eleven mild to moderate CTS cases (nerve conduction study, clinical examination) who failed standard medical or surgical treatment for 3 to 30 months. INTERVENTION: Patients received real and sham treatment series (each for 3-4wk), in a randomized order. Real treatments used red-beam laser (continuous wave, 15mW, 632.8nm) on shallow acupuncture points on the affected hand, infrared laser (pulsed, 9.4W, 904nm) on deeper points on upper extremity and cervical paraspinal areas, and microamps TENS on the affected wrist. Devices were painless, noninvasive, and produced no sensation whether they were real or sham. The hand was treated behind a hanging black curtain without the patient knowing if devices were on (real) or off (sham). MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: McGill Pain Questionnaire (MPQ) score, sensory and motor latencies, and Phalen and Tinel signs. RESULTS: Significant decreases in MPQ score, median nerve sensory latency, and Phalen and Tinel signs after the real treatment series but not after the sham treatment series. Patients could perform their previous work (computer typist, handyman) and were stable for 1 to 3 years. CONCLUSIONS: This new, conservative treatment was effective in treating CTS pain; larger studies are recommended. Copyright 2002 by the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine and the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

Photomedicine and Laser Surgery: April 2006 Volume 24(2)

In this review, seven studies using photoradiation to treat carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) are discussed: two controlled studies that observed real laser to have a better effect than sham laser, to treat CTS; three openprotocol studies that observed real laser to have a beneficial effect to treat CTS; and two studies that did not observe real laser to have a better effect than a control condition, to treat CTS. In the five studies that observed beneficial effect from real laser, higher laser dosages (9 Joules, 12-30 Joules, 32 J/cm(2), 225 J/cm(2)) were used at the primary treatment sites (median nerve at the wrist, or cervical neck area), than dosages in the two studies where real laser was not observed to have a better effect than a control condition (1.8 Joules or 6 J/cm(2)). The average success rate across the first five studies was 84% (SD, 8.9; total hands = 171). The average pain duration prior to successful photoradiation was 2 years. Photoradiation is a promising new, conservative treatment for mild/moderate CTS cases (motor latency <>

Photomedicine and Laser Surgery: February 2007 Volume 25(1)

OBJECTIVE: This prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled trial aimed to investigate the efficacy of laser therapy in the treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). BACKGROUND DATA: Low-level laser therapy (LLLT) has been found to have positive effects in the treatment of CTS and various musculoskeletal conditions. METHODS:A total of 81 patients were included in this study. Diagnosis of CTS was based on both clinical examination and electromyographic (EMG) study. Patients were randomly assigned into two groups. Group 1 (n = 41) underwent laser therapy (7 joules/2 min) over the carpal tunnel area. Group 2 (n = 40) received placebo laser therapy. All patients received therapy five times per week, for a total of 10 sessions. Patients also used a wrist splint each night. Patients were assessed according to pain, hand-pinch grip strength, and functional capacity. Pain was evaluated by Visual Analog Scale (VAS; day-night). Hand grip was measured by Jamar dynometer, and pinch grip was measured by pinchmeter. Functional capacity was assessed by a self-administered questionnaire for severity of symptoms. RESULTS: The mean age of the patients (70 women, 11 Men) was 49.3 +/- 11.0 (range, 26-78). After therapy there were statistically significant improvements in VAS, pinch grip, and functional capacity measurement in both groups CONCLUSION: In using LLLT, (1) there was no difference relative to pain relief and functional capacity during the follow-up in CTS patients; (2) there were positive effects on hand and pinch grip strengths.

Australian Journal of Physiotherapy:

This study was designed to compare the efficacy of ultrasound and laser treatment for mild to moderate idiopathic carpal tunnel syndrome. Ninety hands in 50 consecutive patients with carpal tunnel syndrome confirmed by electromyography were allocated randomly in two experimental groups. One group received ultrasound therapy and the other group received low level laser therapy. Ultrasound treatment (1 MHz, 1.0 W/cm(2), pulse 1:4, 15 min/session) and low level laser therapy (9 joules, 830 nm infrared laser at five points) were applied to the carpal tunnel for 15 daily treatment sessions (5 sessions/week). Measurements were performed before and after treatment and at follow up four weeks later, and included pain assessment by visual analogue scale; electroneurographic measurement (motor and sensory latency, motor and sensory action potential amplitude); and pinch and grip strength. Improvement was significantly more pronounced in the ultrasound group than in low level laser therapy group for motor latency (mean difference 0.8 m/s, 95% CI 0.6 to 1.0), motor action potential amplitude (2.0 mV, 95% CI 0.9 to 3.1), finger pinch strength (6.7 N, 95% CI 5.0 to 8.2), and pain relief (3.1 points on a 10-point scale, 95% CI 2.5 to 3.7). Effects were sustained in the follow-up period. Ultrasound treatment was more effective than laser therapy for treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome. Further study is needed to investigate the combination therapy effects of these treatments in carpal tunnel syndrome patients.

Muscle and Nerve: August 2004 Volume 30(2)

Several studies have suggested that low-level laser therapy (LLLT) is effective in patients with carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). In a double-blind randomized controlled trial of LLLT, 15 CTS patients, 34 to 67 years of age, were randomly assigned to either the control group (n = 8) or treatment group (n =7). Both groups were treated three times per week for 5 weeks. Those in the treatment group received 860 nm galium/aluminum/arsenide laser at a dosage of 6 J/cm2 over the carpal tunnel, whereas those in the control group were treated with sham laser. The primary outcome measure was the Levine Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Questionnaire, and the secondary outcome measures were electrophysiological data and the Purdue pegboard test. All patients completed the study without adverse effects. There was a significant symptomatic improvement in both the control (P = 0.034) and treatment (P =0.043) groups. However, there was no significant difference in any of the outcome measures between the two groups. Thus, LLLT is no more effective in the reduction of symptoms of CTS than is sham treatment.

Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: 2003(1)

BACKGROUND: Non-surgical treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome is frequently offered to those with mild to moderate symptoms. The effectiveness and duration of benefit from non-surgical treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome remain unknown. OBJECTIVES: To evaluate the effectiveness of non-surgical treatment (other than steroid injection) for carpal tunnel syndrome versus a placebo or other non-surgical, control interventions in improving clinical outcome. SEARCH STRATEGY: We searched the Cochrane Neuromuscular Disease Group specialised register (searched March 2002), MEDLINE (searched January 1966 to February 7 2001), EMBASE (searched January 1980 to March 2002), CINAHL (searched January 1983 to December 2001), AMED (searched 1984 to January 2002), Current Contents (January 1993 to March 2002), PEDro and reference lists of articles. SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomised or quasi-randomised studies in any language of participants with the diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome who had not previously undergone surgical release. We considered all non-surgical treatments apart from local steroid injection. The primary outcome measure was improvement in clinical symptoms after at least three months following the end of treatment. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Three reviewers independently selected the trials to be included. Two reviewers independently extracted data. Studies were rated for their overall quality. Relative risks and weighted mean differences with 95% confidence intervals were calculated for the primary and secondary outcomes in each trial. Results of clinically and statistically homogeneous trials were pooled to provide estimates of the efficacy of non-surgical treatments. MAIN RESULTS: Twenty-one trials involving 884 people were included. A hand brace significantly improved symptoms after four weeks (weighted mean difference (WMD) -1.07; 95% confidence interval (CI) -1.29 to -0.85) and function (WMD -0.55; 95% CI -0.82 to -0.28). In an analysis of pooled data from two trials (63 participants) ultrasound treatment for two weeks was not significantly beneficial. However one trial showed significant symptom improvement after seven weeks of ultrasound (WMD -0.99; 95% CI -1.77 to - 0.21) which was maintained at six months (WMD -1.86; 95% CI -2.67 to -1.05). Four trials involving 193 people examined various oral medications (steroids, diuretics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) versus placebo. Compared to placebo, pooled data for two-week oral steroid treatment demonstrated a significant improvement in symptoms (WMD -7.23; 95% CI -10.31 to -4.14). One trial also showed improvement after four weeks (WMD -10.8; 95% CI -15.26 to -6.34). Compared to placebo, diuretics or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs did not demonstrate significant benefit. In two trials involving 50 people, vitamin B6 did not significantly improve overall symptoms. In one trial involving 51 people yoga significantly reduced pain after eight weeks (WMD -1.40; 95% CI -2.73 to -0.07) compared with wrist splinting. In one trial involving 21 people carpal bone mobilisation significantly improved symptoms after three weeks (WMD -1.43; 95% CI -2.19 to -0.67) compared to no treatment. In one trial involving 50 people with diabetes, steroid and insulin injections significantly improved symptoms over eight weeks compared with steroid and placebo injections. Two trials involving 105 people compared ergonomic keyboards versus control and demonstrated equivocal results for pain and function. Trials of magnet therapy, laser acupuncture, exercise or chiropractic care did not demonstrate symptom benefit when compared to placebo or control. REVIEWER'S CONCLUSIONS: Current evidence shows significant short-term benefit from oral steroids, splinting, ultrasound, yoga and carpal bone mobilisation. Other non-surgical treatments do not produce significant benefit. More trials are needed to compare treatments and ascertain the duration of benefit.

Journal of Neurology: March 2002 Volume 249(3)

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a common disorder, for which various conservative treatment options are available. The objective of this study is to determine the efficacy of the various conservative treatment options for relieving the symptoms of CTS. Computer-aided searches of MEDLINE (1/1966 to 3/2000), EMBASE (1/1988 to 2/2000) and the Cochrane Controlled Trials Register (2000, issue 1) were conducted, together with reference checking. Included were randomised controlled trials evaluating the efficacy of conservative treatment options in a study population of CTS patients, with a full report published in English, German, French or Dutch. Two reviewers independently selected the studies. Fourteen randomised controlled trials were included in the review. Assessment of methodological quality and data-extraction was independently performed by two reviewers. A rating system, based on the number of studies and their methodological quality and findings, was used to determine the strength of the available evidence for the efficacy of the treatment. Diuretics, pyridoxine, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, yoga and laser-acupuncture seem to be ineffective in providing short-term symptom relief (varying levels of evidence) and steroid injections seem to be effective (limited evidence). There is conflicting evidence for the efficacy of ultrasound and oral steroids. For providing long-term relief from symptoms there is limited evidence that ultrasound is effective, and that splinting is less effective than surgery. In conclusion, there is still little known about the efficacy of most conservative treatment options for CTS. To establish stronger evidence more high quality trials are needed.

I was able to find these 6 peer reviewed articles on CTS and treatment with LLLT. Out of the 6, only 2 had positive results toward using LLLT. One (Arch Phys Med) included Microcurrent with the LLLT treatment. Therefore unable to tell if it was LLLT, Micro, or the interaction of the two that was beneficial. The second was a review that does not have the articles reviewed listed, making it very difficult for an individual to read the studies they feel support the use of LLLT for CTS.

My conclusion from the best literature available is that there is no evidence that LLLT is effective in treating CTS at this time. I think the DC's own statement in the Yahoo article sums up where it is being used for CTS despite evidence it doesn't help:
Cold laser therapy was accepted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2002 and is used by athletic trainers, chiropractors and practitioners of alternative medicine.
Surprise, surprise. Although, it is easy to find many PT's making similar claims. We all love the next gadgets that can cure people without the patient or clinician having to put any effort into it.

Anyone have more compelling literature that I may have missed or not know about? Let me know. Use good peer reviewed studies to show me that my conclusion is wrong or that I am spot on.


Ryan said...

Firstly, I suggest reading an article co-authored by world-leaders in Low Intensity Laser Therapy research, Jan Tuner and Lars Hode. The article can be found on the site of the Swedish Laser Medical Society.

Secondly, you can review the Meditech International website for Laser Therapy practitioners. There is abundant research and case studies supporting LILT for musculo-skeletal treatment. I can also email you a document specifically supporting LILT for CTS, if you wish.

As LILT is still an emerging technology in North America (more established and accepted in Europe), there are sure to be wild claims and many who speak without knowledge hoping to capitalize on the uneducated. The approach of Meditech International is to spread education about LILT, supported by evidence-based practices, science and clinical results to promote the use of LILT as a primary means of healing and pain management.

There will always be competitors who preach LILT as a magic wand or magic bullet - Meditech aims to set realistic expectations, supported by their laser therapy clinics (largest in North America).

Jason L. Harris, PT, DPT said...


Thank you for you comments. I have visited the websites you have included.

The Swedish Laser Medical Society posted 2 clinical trials on CTS. Both were included in my literature search: 1. Photomed Laser Surg. 2006 Apr;24(2) and 2. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2002 Jul;83(7)

These were the only 2 positive articles I found for LLLT and CTS. I have already previously stated my concerns with them in the initial post.

The Laser World link (or as you titled it: Laser Therapy Practioners) was a very interesting read. I think they work too hard to debunk the MANY clinical trials that show LLLT to be not anymore effective that a current therapy or placebo.

However, I think their overriding point about varying dosages effecting outcomes could be significant. But is it has been used in Europe for 30 years (one of my favorite arguments for why we should blindly accept a treatment, lol) why are there not dosage standards for effective treatment not set yet?

The same argument has been used for US (which has been used in the USA for 30+ years. Maybe Europe should begin using it j/k). Those who swear by it's amazing healing power for musculoskeletal injuries seem to claim negative studies are a result of faulty treatment protocols (dosage, time, frequency, duration) and not because US in ineffective for musculoskeletal problems.

I would be more than happy to read the article you mentioned you have. You can contact me using the "Email" tab at the top of the blog.

Finally, keep in context what I'm looking at LLLT for - CTS. Thanks again for your comments.

Ryan said...


Thanks for your serious evaluation of LILT/LLLT. Too often folks either embrace or reject a modality too quickly, whereas evaluation and research lead to an educated decision.

The document on CTS is available on the Laser Evangelist blog and on the Meditech International site in the Medical Articles section of the Research category.

To answer your question about established protocols (in my best guesstimation): I comes down to clinical research and practice. The therapy works - that's been proved again and again. However, the effectiveness is largely governed by the customization of the protocols.

Most manufacturers have little customization available and give even less guidance. The approach is "point this where it hurts." Only through extensive study and research can a standardized scale of protocols and parameters be developed. The industry isn't large enough for that yet. Some manufacturers have put significant effort into this, but that doesn't apply across the industry. What one company knows they release to their customers.

I think it's honestly a matter of when the acceptance becomes mainstream, the flow of information will balance and a standard for treatment and performance will be established.

In the meantime, evaluate claims based on the documentation and research behind it, not the hype.

I have researched AND been treated with LILT. It worked where US, Physio, chiro and a 1/2 doz other therapies failed. Why did it work? Because it healed the underlying pathology on the cellular level.

Meditech International is one company that has been open with their research, and claims a 95% success rate in treating patients with LILT at their clinics. I linked to their site in the previous comment. I will enquire if there is more CTS data than what is posted on their site.

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