Background: Low-back pain (LBP) is a major health problem and a major cause of medical expenses and disablement. Low level laser therapy (LLLT) can be used to treat musculoskeletal disorders such as back pain.
Objectives: To assess the effects of LLLT in patients with non-specific LBP.
Search strategy: We searched CENTRAL (The Cochrane Library 2005, Issue 2), MEDLINE, CINAHL, EMBASE, AMED and PEDro from their start to November 2007 with no language restrictions. We screened references in the included studies and in reviews and conducted citation tracking of identified RCTs and reviews using Science Citation Index. We also contacted content experts.
Selection criteria: Randomised controlled clinical trials (RCTs) investigating LLLT to treat non-specific low-back pain were included.
Data collection and analysis: Two authors independently assessed methodological quality using the criteria recommended by the Cochrane Back Review Group and extracted data. Studies were qualitatively and quantitatively analysed according to Cochrane Back Review Group guideline.
Main results: Seven heterogeneous English language RCTs with reasonable quality were included. Three small studies (168 people) separately showed statistically significant but clinically unimportant pain relief for LLLT versus sham therapy for sub-acute and chronic low-back pain at short-term and intermediate-term follow-up (up to six months). One study (56 people) showed that LLLT was more effective than sham at reducing disability in the short term. Three studies (102 people) reported that LLLT plus exercise were not better than exercise, with or without sham in the short-term in reducing pain or disability. Two studies (90 people) reported that LLLT was not more effective than exercise, with or without sham in reducing pain or disability in the short term. Two small trials (151 people) independently found that the relapse rate in the LLLT group was significantly lower than in the control group at the six-month follow-up. No side effects were reported.
Authors' conclusions: Based on the heterogeneity of the populations, interventions and comparison groups, we conclude that there are insufficient data to draw firm conclusions on the clinical effect of LLLT for low-back pain. There is a need for further methodologically rigorous RCTs to evaluate the effects of LLLT compared to other treatments, different lengths of treatment, wavelengths and dosages.