Cold Laser

CF 022: Cold Laser Research You Should Know About


This week, I have some brand new research concerning spinal manipulation with laser therapy added as well as cold laser research looking at laser therapy in general. We concentrate heavily on research having to do with musculoskeletal conditions and I think this week gives us an opportunity to look at spinal manipulation but to also look at a modality many Doctors of Chiropractic implement regularly in their day-to-day lives. 

Before we get started with the cold laser research, I want to draw your attention our website at Just below the area where you can listen to the latest episode, you’ll see an area where you can sign up for our newsletter. I’d like to encourage you to sign up. It’s just an email about once a week to let you know when the episode is updated and what it’s about.


Welcome to the podcast today, I’m Dr. Jeff Williams and I’m your host for the Chiropractic Forward podcast. We are honored to have you listening. Now, here we go with some vital information that we think can build confidence and improve your practice which will improve your life overall. That’s a tall order but that is the goal.

You have boogied right on into Episode #22

But first, my week has been mixed man. Being a small business owner isn’t all peaches and cream is it? I tell you, sometimes you’re up….sometimes you’re down but we keep soldiering on. I’ve been in practice for 20 years and it can still be stressful. I found something that helps me though. Some of you already know this. It’s music. You can have elevator music on in your office if you like but I say NO. 

First, your patients don’t really like that stuff. Just in case you didn’t know that, I’m telling you now. I spent the time last week to make a couple of playlists. One is called Memphis/Motown/Muscle Shoals and one is called Rat Pack. Now, I’m a former traveling musician. In fact, the bumper music you just listened to….I wrote that and recorded all of the parts on it from the guitars, bass, piano, everything. 

My personal preference is Americana/Texas Country style music. If you have iTunes, you can find my old touring band called Copperhead and the album is called Remedy. That was us! 

Anyway, Texas Country is my preference but, for my office, I and my patients are loving the older boogie and soulful stuff like Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, The Temptations, Ray Charles, and anything that fits that style whether it’s old or new. Doesn’t matter. In fact, a lot of the newer artists are sounding like the great stuff from the older days. I love it. Then, to mix it up a bit, I throw in the Rat Pack list here and there with Sinatra, Harry Connick Jr, Michael Buble, Dean Martin, and guys like Wayne Newton. It’s great. Classy and cool. Anyway, the days have just started flying by. When you boogie all day, and your patients boogie all day, well… makes for an awesome place with an awesome experience. 

If any of you have any interest in the playlists, send me an email or Facebook message and let’s talk about it. I love talking music!!!

Now, what we are REALLY here for. 

Let’s start by saying that Low Level Laser has been around for many years in one for or another at this point in time. But, how many actually know where it came from, how it was discovered, and what research is there showing its effectiveness? 

I would hope that, if you include a modality in your office, you have done some background work to show yourself and to demonstrate to your patients that there is backing research for the modality and they don’t just simply need to take your word for it. And, if you can find little to no evidence of effectiveness for a modality, my suggestion is that it should play no part in your services. Of course, that is my opinion and can be taken or dropped as may opinions commonly are. 

Let’s start with the newest paper that mentions cold laser but does not really do anything to address effectiveness of cold laser. I think you can anticipate the outcome once you learn the basis but, it is new so we are talking about it. 

This paper is called, “Spinal manipulation combined with laser therapy is more beneficial than laser therapy alone in chronic non-specific low back pain. A randomized controlled study,” and it was published in the European Journal of Physical Rehabilitation Medicine on April 24, 2018 and was authored by Subash Chandra Bose, et. al(Subash Chandra Bose GN 2018). 


Why They Did It

The authors were looking to compare treatment regimens for exercise/cold laser/spinal manipulation vs. exercise/cold laser alone for patients suffering from chronic non-specific low back pain.

How They Did It

  • Three hundred and thirty patients were included
  • Study was randomized control
  • Outcome measurements used were Visual Analog Scale, Roland and Morris Disability Questionnaire, Physical Health Questionnaire, and Health Related Quality of Life-4.
  • Outcome measurements were taken at the beginning to measure the baseline total, at the 4-week mark, at the 6-week mark, and at the year mark. 
  • A blinded assessor was used to evaluate the Outcome Measures

What They Found

  • 326 patients finished the program
  • 304 patients finished through the 1-year mark
  • ANOVA analyses proved statistically significant improvement in regards to the lessening of pain, in regards to increased range of motion, functional disability, depression, and Quality of Life. 
  • All of these significant improvements were seen in the Spinal Manipulation/Exercise/Laser Therapy group. 

Wrap It Up

The authors conclusion was, “Spinal manipulation combined with laser therapy and conventional exercise is more effective than laser therapy and conventional exercise alone in chronic non-specific low back pain. Spinal manipulation is an adjuvant intervention and it can be applied in every day clinical practice.”

If you have paid attention to research, you probably predicted the outcome on this. Spinal manipulation appears to be the most effective means of treating non-complicated low back pain bar none. It just is. On top of laser plus exercise, on top of exercise, equal to more effective than NSAIDs… just is and research backs it time and time again. 

But, this paper does nothing to look at cold laser specifically. It just shows us that spinal manipulation gets better results. 

Let us say up front: low level laser, also known as cold laser, is not covered under insurance plans. As they explain it, the modality is experimental and investigational. I have a ton of experience and anecdotal evidence I could relay to you but, in the end, it’s cold laser research that you need for validation. 

First, let’s go through a brief history on cold laser before we get to the cold laser research. 

In 1967 a few years after the first working laser was invented, Endre Mester in Semmelweis University in Budapest, Hungary experimented with the effects of lasers on skin cancer. While applying lasers to the backs of shaven mice, he noticed that the shaved hair grew back more quickly on the treated group than the untreated group. It’s use wide array of uses have been explored since then and they had no idea where it would lead them.

When we think of lasers, we think of burning or cutting lasers. Cold laser is actually called low level laser. It’s different. You really don’t feel it during the treatment and It works by stimulating cell function. The second paper below by Cotler et. al. states “LLLT at low doses has been shown to enhance cell proliferation of fibroblasts, keratinocytes, endothelial cells, and lymphocytes. The mechanism of proliferation is thought to result from photo-stimulation of the mitochondria leading to activation of signaling pathways and up regulation of transcription factors eventually giving rise to increases in growth factors.”

Here is a paper from 2014 published in the International Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery called “Does low-level laser therapy decrease swelling and pain resulting from orthognathic surgery?” and authored by G. Gasperini, et. al(Gasperini G 2014). 

Why They Did It

Hoping for alternatives to treating swelling and inflammation following orhognatic surgery, and noticing there was a lack of research for or against cold laser, the authors wanted to further investigate it’s effectiveness in that capacity. 

How They Did It

  • 10 patients having undergone bilateral sagittal split with Le Fort I osteotomy were randomly selected. 
  • The treatment protocol consisted of intraoral and extraoral treatment with the laser on one side of the face following surgery 
  • Fake application was performed on the other of the face. Remember that surgery was done on both sides. 
  • The two sides were compared for pain using the visual analog scale and for swelling.

What They Found

  • Immediately after surgery, there was little to no difference for inflammation and pain in the two sides.
  • On the side treated with cold laser, inflammation and swelling decreased significantly on day three, day seven, day fifteen, and day thirty. 
  • Self-reported pain was reduced on the treatment side at the one-day mark and at the three-day mark. 
  • After seven days, however, no pain was present on either side. 

Wrap It Up

The authors of this paper concluded, “This LLLT protocol can improve the tissue response and reduce the pain and swelling resulting from orthognathic surgery.”

Here’s one from Dr. Roberta Chow, et. al, published in The Lancet in 2009 called “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.(Chow R 2009)”

You should know the reputation of The Lancet. If not, it is one of the world’s oldest medical journals dating back to 1823. Being published in The Lancet is notable to say the least. 

Why They Did It

The point was to perform a systematic review of the literature proving or disproving the effectiveness of cold laser in the treatment of neck pain. 

How They Did It

The authors did an exhaustive search of the databases holding information comparing efficacy of cold laser implementing any wavelength vs placebo or active control for acute or chronic neck pain. 

What They Found

  • 16 Randomized Controlled Trials were identified
  • 820 patients

Wrap It Up

“We show that 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.”

Powerful in my opinion, folks.

This paper is called “The Use of Low Level Laser Therapy For Musculoskeletal Pain” by Howard Cotler et. al. and was published in 2015 in MedCrave Online Journal of Orthopaedics & Rheumatology(Cotler H 2015).

Why They Did It

With the current treatment options for chronic musculoskeletal pain consisting of NSAIDs, steroid injections, opiates, and surgery, the authors recognized a need to further treat chronic pain in a more effective manner as chronic pain continues to become more and more prevalent globally. Particularly chronic low back pain. 

What They Found

The authors state that over 4000 papers found on pubmed show that cold laser does indeed show effectiveness on acute and chronic musculoskeletal pain. They state that heterogeneity of populations, treatments, and groupings means that not every single study was positive but the majority are positive. They also state that the overall positive studies should provide the practitioner with a certain level of confidence in implementing the modality in their treatment protocols. 

Wrap It Up

The authors concluded the following, “One has to be realistic about the therapeutic use of LLLT. The previous discussion has shown that LLLT is beneficial for pain relief and can accelerate the body’s ability to heal itself. LLLT has a long history and strong basic science evidence, which supports its use in pain management. It has few side effects and is well tolerated by the elderly. A laser or LED does not correct situations involving structural deficits or instabilities whether in bone or in soft tissue. Also, LLLT should only be used as an adjuvant therapy for pain relief in patients with neuropathic pain and neurologic deficits. Successful outcomes, like all medical management, depend on good clinical skills linked with an understanding of the nature of injury, inflammation, repair, pain, and the mechanism of laser and LED effects.”

That’s good stuff I think you’d all agree. 

And then there’s this paper from 2003 we will cover quickly. It’s called “Efficacy of low power laser therapy and exercise on pain and functions in chronic low back pain” and written by A. Gur, et. al.. It was published in Lasers in Surgery and Medicine(Gur A 2003).  I do dislike including papers from 15 years ago since lasers and technology change rapidly  these days, however, my thought process is that, hopefully, treatments become even more effective over the course of 15 years rather than less effective. 

Why They Did It

The authors were trying to decided whether cold laser was effective (or was not effective) for treating chronic low back pain. 

How They Did It

  • 75 patients
  • The outcome assessments were done through the visual analogue scale, the Schober test, through flexion and lateral flexion measures, through the Roland Disability Questionnaire, and through the Oswestry Disability Questionnaire. 
  • The measures were taken pre- and post-treatment. 

What They Found

Except for lateral flexion specifically, significant improvement was noted in all groups and in all outcome measures taken. 

Wrap It Up

The conclusion by the authors was, “Low power laser therapy seemed to be an effective method in reducing pain and functional disability in the therapy of chronic LBP.”

Key Takeaways this week:

I don’t care what the insurance companies say about cold laser research and cold laser being experimental and investigational. Cold laser is not a “chiropractic thing” and practitioners of all shapes, sizes, and professions are using it including dentists and surgeons. While there are some papers that aren’t positive, heterogeneity and styles and techniques make it difficult. However, the majority of papers on cold laser are very much positive and show effectiveness including those published in The Lancet. 

Walk forward in your practice knowing that you are getting your patients better with cold laser and you are helping make a difference in their lives. 

Going forward this week, Retweet us, like our page on Facebook, and SHARE us on Facebook so we can get those likes up and increase listenership and involvement. We need every bit of your help to do that. I can’t do it alone. 

I want you to know with absolute certainty that When Chiropractic is at its best, you cannot beat the risk vs reward ratio. Plain and simple. Spinal pain is a mechanical pain and responds better to mechanical treatment rather than chemical treatment such as pain killers, muscle relaxants, and anti-inflammatories.

When you look at the body of literature, it is clear: research and clinical experience shows that, in about 80%-90% of headaches, neck, and back pain, compared to the traditional medical model, patients get good to excellent results with Chiropractic. It’s safe, more cost-effective, decreases chances of surgery, and reduces chances of becoming disabled. We do this conservatively and non-surgically with minimal time requirements and hassle on the part of the patient. And, if the patient develops a “preventative” mindset going forward, we can likely keep it that way while raising the general, overall level of health! And patients have the right to the best treatment that does the least harm. THAT’S Chiropractic folks.

Please feel free to send us an email at dr dot williams at and let us know what you think or what suggestions you may have for us for future episodes. Feedback and constructive criticism is a blessing and we want to hear from you on a range of topics so bring it on folks!

If you love what you hear, be sure to check out We want to ask you to share us with you network and help us build this podcast into the #1 Chiropractic evidence-based podcast in the world. 

We cannot wait to connect again with you next week. From Chiropractic Forward Podcast flight deck, this is Dr. Jeff Williams saying upward, onward, and forward. 

Social Media Links


CF 016: Review of The Lancet Article on Low Back Pain (Pt. 1)

CF 014: DEBUNKED: The Odd Myth That Chiropractors Cause Strokes (Part 2 of 3)



  1. Chow R (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.
  2. Cotler H (2015). “The Use of Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT) For Musculoskeletal Pain.” MOJ Orthop Rheumatol 2(15).
  3. Gasperini G (2014). “Does low-level laser therapy decrease swelling and pain resulting from orthognathic surgery?” Int J Oral Maxillofac Surg 43(7): 868-873.
  4. Gur A (2003). “Efficacy of low power laser therapy and exercise on pain and functions in chronic low back pain.” Lasers Surg Med 32(3): 233-238.
  5. Subash Chandra Bose GN (2018). “Spinal manipulation combined with laser therapy is more beneficial than laser therapy alone in chronic non-specific low back pain. A randomized controlled study.” Euro J Phys Rehabil Med.