Laser therapy is an alternative treatment for some types of pain, such as that often associated with the knee.

Research on laser therapy is preliminary, and most insurers still consider it to be experimental. However, some studies show it can alleviate pain, including knee pain.

Laser therapy is also known as cold laser therapy, class III laser therapy, or low-level laser therapy (LLLT). Some early studies have shown lasers might help wounds heal. If true, this suggests they could help the body to repair tissue damage caused by injuries and arthritis or other diseases. However, the first studies of cold therapy lasers were not controlled clinical studies.

Laser therapy is relatively new, and researchers do not yet know if it has any long-term risks. Most studies have looked at short-term effects, so it is possible that laser therapy could trigger longer-term side effects that have not yet been realized.

Fast facts on laser therapy for knee pain :

  • Proponents of laser therapy say it offers both temporary pain relief and long-term healing.
  • Supporters of laser therapy suggest it could treat ailments as diverse as arthritis, chronic pain, joint disorders, and even addictions, such as smoking.
  • Research on pain in other areas of the body suggests that laser therapy can, as a minimum, offer temporary pain relief.
  • Unlike surgical lasers, cold lasers do not heat up the bodys tissues.

Why is it so hard to determine if it works?

One of the problems with laser therapy is that different studies look at different wavelengths of light. This makes it difficult to compare one laser to another. Likewise, different manufacturers make different recommendations about treatment frequency and duration.

For laser therapy to become a standard treatment for knee pain, doctors would need to know which wavelength is most effective and at what dosage.

What are the alternatives to laser therapy for knee pain?

Home management strategies, such as rest, ice packs, compression, heat, massage, stretching, exercise, and the use of over-the-counter medications, can all offer temporary relief for minor knee pain.

For chronic or severe knee pain some treatments may offer relief. These include:

  • strengthening exercises
  • physical therapy
  • knee injections, hyaluronic acid supplements and corticosteroids
  • arthrocentesis, involving removal of joint fluid through a needle
  • prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • arthritis medications, such as biologics, anti-rheumatics, corticosteroids, and pain relievers
  • alternative treatments, such as acupuncture and chiropractic care
  • knee surgery

Laser therapy can work alongside these treatments, so trying laser therapy does not mean having to forgo other options.

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