Dr. Z Blog

What is cold laser therapy and how does it work?

We live in an age of advancing knowledge and technology. Many advances are being in made in fields of medicine and chiropractic care and one of those advancement is using light to treat pain and injury. You may have heard about cold laser around our office or seen it offered as treatment.

So, what is cold laser therapy and how does it work? The reason it is called ‘cold laser’ therapy is because the levels of light are not high enough to heat your skin, so unlike James Bond in Goldfinger, there is very little to be worried about when your doctor suggests cold laser therapy as a treatment. So, what is cold laser exactly? Cold laser therapy is a low intensity laser therapy that can stimulate healing using low levels of light. Cold laser therapy may also be known as low-level laser therapy, low-power laser therapy, soft laser biostimulation or photobiomodulation.

Cold laser therapy, or cold laser as I will refer to it from now on, uses different wavelengths and out puts of low-level light. These wavelengths of light are applied directly to the area being treated and this area will absorb the light or energy since light is a form of energy. This causes a physical reaction in the damaged cells that promotes regeneration and repair to the damaged cells. Research has shown that cold laser helped by reducing inflammatory causing chemicals in the body, decreasing oxidative stress, and increasing the amount white blood cells (helper cells) in damaged tissues. They also found that when compared to ibuprofen and similar medications, cold laser was just as effective at reducing pain and inflammation (2).

Superficial tissues are commonly treated with wavelengths between 600 and 700 nanometers and for deeper tissues, wavelengths between 780 and 950 nanometers are used. Cold laser is non-invasive, meaning it will not break the skin and is painless. All you should feel is the laser device touching your skin. There will be no vibrations or heat although some people report feeling a gentle warming that comes from the increase in cellular activity as the cells absorb the light energy. A cold laser therapy session is really very easy on the patient. The cold laser device is applied to the area needing treatment, the laser parameters are set by the doctor and the cold laser therapy is started. That is all there is to it. There are different types of applicators, some can be left in place and others may need to be held and moved by the doctor. All you, the patient, has to do is relax.

Cold laser has been approved by the FDA and cold laser can be used as a treatment method for many different injuries, but the main use is to aid in tissue repair, pain relief and decreased inflammation. Cold laser can be used to treat the following conditions:

Ligament sprains

Muscle strains

Tendonitis and tennis elbow


Neck pain

Lower back pain

Muscle spasms


Promote joint healing and pain relief

Research on the effectiveness continues but the findings are promising. A meta-analysis on cold laser to treat elbow pain found that when compared to other treatments those treated with cold laser had less pain, improved grip strength, fewer missed days of work and less disability (3). Another study looking at cold laser therapy and elbow pain found that o              patients treated with cold laser had immediate pain relief and reported pain relief that lasted for up to 22 weeks after treatment had ended (4). And when used to treat chronic joint pain a meta-analysis of cold laser therapy significantly improved pain and function in chronic joint pain patients (5).

There are many emerging uses for cold laser and researchers are studying its usefulness in treating conditions associated with traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury and Parkinson’s disease.

And while cold laser is considered safe when performed by a doctor or qualified practitioner it should not be used on carcinomas or cancerous lesions and should no be used on pregnant patients, over the thyroid and on the eyes.

Sounds pretty good right! Cold laser sessions usually take a few minutes to complete but it may take two to four weeks to really notice substantial improvements. This is because cold laser works with the body to aid in healing and healing does take some time. But when you consider that a ligament sprain usually takes months to heal, getting back to normal in weeks sounds much better.

If you’re unsure whether or not you’re a candidate for cold laser therapy, it is best to get in touch with our office and schedule a consult. Depending on the nature of your condition we may still be able to find a cold laser therapy protocol that is safe for you or we may be able to use some of our other treatment options to help you decrease your pain, improve your movement, and help you to feel better. To learn more, you can call our office at 716-822-BACK (2225) or visit our website, www.drzwny.com. We look forward to hearing from you and helping you to feel better and enjoy life more!

Written by Dr. Marshall Dornink










Bjordal, Jan & Couppé, Christian & Chow, Roberta & Tunér, Jan & Ljunggren, Elisabeth. (2003). A systematic review of low level laser therapy with location-specific doses for pain from chronic joint disorders. The Australian journal of physiotherapy. 49. 107-16. 10.1016/S0004-9514(14)60127-6.

Chow, Roberta & Johnson, Mark & Lopes-Martins, Rodrigo Alvaro & Bjordal, Jan. (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. 1897-908. 10.1016/S0140-6736(09)61522-1.

Bjordal, Jan & Lopes-Martins, Rodrigo Alvaro & Joensen, Jon & Couppé, Christian & Ljunggren, Anne & Stergioulas, Apostolos & Johnson, Mark. (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. 10.1186/1471-2474-9-75.

Bjordal, Jan & Johnson, Mark & Iversen, Vegard & Aimbire, Flávio & Lopes-Martins, Rodrigo Alvaro. (2006). Low-Level Laser Therapy in Acute Pain: A Systematic Review of Possible Mechanisms of Action and Clinical Effects in Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trials. Photomedicine and laser surgery. 24. 158-68. 10.1089/pho.2006.24.158.

https://www.healthline.com/health/cold-laser-therapy#takeaway Medically reviewed by Debra Rose Wilson, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT — Written by Ann Pietrangelo — Updated on March 7, 2019