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Ask Tufts Experts July 2011 Issue

Q: What is your opinion of the claim that “low-level laser therapy can be used for almost any health condition”?

Answer :  We’d be skeptical of any treatment that claims to be good for almost anything that ails you. Developed in the 1960s by a Hungarian physician, Endre Mester, low-level laser therapy (LLLT) uses a red or near-infrared laser at a level so low it doesn’t generate burning heat like a surgical laser, so it’s also called “cold-laser” therapy. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows LLLT devices to be marketed for temporary pain relief, primarily for symptoms related to carpal-tunnel syndrome but also for muscle stiffness, minor arthritis pain and poor local blood circulation. Makers of LLLT devices with more sweeping claims have triggered warnings by the FDA. The scientific evidence regarding LLLT for pain relief is mixed and limited, with some studies showing it’s no better than any other form of heat delivery (such as a heating pad). One study of LLLT for diabetic neuropathy in the feet found it no more effective than a sham control therapy. Several national insurance companies, as well as Medicare, have concluded that LLLT is ineffective for pain relief and opted not to cover the treatment.

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