Objective: The authors conducted this pilot study to prospectively investigate the effectiveness of low-power laser irradiation (780 nm) in the treatment of patients suffering from incomplete peripheral nerve and brachial plexus injuries for 6 months up to several years.
Background data: Injury of a major nerve trunk frequently results in considerable disability associated with loss of sensory and motor functions. Spontaneous recovery of long-term severe incomplete peripheral nerve injury is often unsatisfactory.
Methods: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial was performed on 18 patients who were randomly assigned placebo (non-active light: diffused LED lamp) or low-power laser irradiation (wavelength, 780 nm; power, 250 mW). Twenty-one consecutive daily sessions of laser or placebo irradiation were applied transcutaneously for 3 h to the injured peripheral nerve (energy density, 450 J/mm(2)) and for 2 h to the corresponding segments of the spinal cord (energy density, 300 J/mm(2)). Clinical and electrophysiological assessments were done at baseline, at the end of the 21 days of treatment, and 3 and 6 months thereafter.
Results: The laser-irradiated and placebo groups were in clinically similar conditions at baseline. The analysis of motor function during the 6-month follow-up period compared to baseline showed statistically significant improvement (p = 0.0001) in the laser-treated group compared to the placebo group. No statistically significant difference was found in sensory function. Electrophysiological analysis also showed statistically significant improvement in recruitment of voluntary muscle activity in the laser-irradiated group (p = 0.006), compared to the placebo group.
Conclusion: This pilot study suggests that in patients with long-term peripheral nerve injury noninvasive 780-nm laser phototherapy can progressively improve nerve function, which leads to significant functional recovery.