Assess the effectiveness of low-level laser therapy on pain reduction and improvement in function in the hands of patients with rheumatoid arthritis. A randomized double-blind controlled trial was carried out on 82 patients with rheumatoid arthritis. The experimental group was submitted to the application of laser therapy, whereas the control group received a placebo laser. Aluminum gallium arsenide laser was used, at a wavelength of 785 nm, dose of 3 J/cm(2) and mean power of 70 mW. The groups were homogenous at the beginning of the study with regard to the main variables (p > 0.05). There were no statistically significant differences between groups in most of the measurements taken at the end of the intervention including the primary variables; the following variables were the exceptions: favoring the experimental group-inflammation of the interphalangeal joint of the right thumb (p = 0.012) and perimetry of the interphalangeal joint of the left thumb (p = 0.013); and favoring the control group-flexion of the proximal interphalangeal joint of the right fifth finger (p = 0.021), perimetry of the third proximal interphalangeal joint of the right hand (p = 0.044), grip strength in the left hand (p = 0.010), and the work domain of the Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder and Hand (DASH) questionnaire (p = 0.010). We conclude that low-level aluminum gallium arsenide laser therapy is not effective at the wavelength, dosage, and power studied for the treatment of hands among patients with rheumatoid arthritis.