Effect of low-level phototherapy on delayed onset muscle soreness: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Lasers Med Sci. 2016 Jan;31(1):165-77. doi: 10.1007/s10103-015-1832-4. Epub 2015 Nov 12.


To determine the effectiveness of low-level phototherapy (i.e. light-emitting diode therapy [LEDtherapy] or light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation therapy [LASERtherapy]) on pain, skeletal muscle injury (creatine kinase [CK] levels and edema) and skeletal muscle function (range of movement and strength) in people undergoing an exercise protocol. (Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, MEDLINE, EMBASE, PEDro, SciELO and LILACS up to May 2014), we included randomized controlled trials, quasi-randomized controlled trials and crossover studies in which study participants were allocated to receive either low-level phototherapy or placebo treatment. Phototherapy should have been applied in a single treatment session, either before or after an exercise protocol. We identified 15 studies involving 317 participants. Meta-analyses were limited by substantial heterogeneity. Compared to the placebo group, reduction in CK levels was only observed when LASERtherapy was applied before an exercise protocol (standardized mean difference = -0.66; 95 % CI = -1.30, -0.02). No between-group difference in edema, range of movement and strength were detected when phototherapy was applied before or after exercise. Evidence from this review suggests that low-level phototherapy may not have substantial effect in the treatment of skeletal muscle injury and pain caused by exercise. Definitive conclusions are limited due to the small number of included studies in each meta-analysis, disparities across the included studies and small sample sizes.

Keywords: Exercise; Low-level laser therapy; Muscle soreness; Phototherapy; Skeletal muscle.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Exercise / physiology
  • Humans
  • Myalgia / physiopathology
  • Myalgia / therapy*
  • Phototherapy / methods*
  • Treatment Outcome