Phototherapy for treating foot ulcers in people with diabetes

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017 Jun 28;6(6):CD011979. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD011979.pub2.


Background: Foot ulcers are a disabling complication of diabetes that affect 15% to 25% of people with diabetes at some time in their lives. Phototherapy is a relatively new, non-invasive, and pain-free treatment method, which promotes the ulcer repair process through multiple mechanisms such as increased cell growth and vascular activity. Phototherapy may be used as an alternative approach for the treatment of foot ulcers in people with diabetes, but the evidence for its effect compared with placebo or other treatments has not yet been established.

Objectives: To assess the effects of phototherapy for the treatment of foot ulcers in people with diabetes.

Search methods: We searched the Cochrane Wounds Specialised Register (11 October 2016), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (the Cochrane Library, 2016, Issue 10), Ovid MEDLINE (11 October 2016), Ovid MEDLINE (In-Process & Other Non-Indexed Citations) (11 October 2016), Ovid Embase (11 October 2016), EBSCO CINAHL Plus (11 October 2016), and China National Knowledge Infrastructure (24 June 2017). We also searched clinical trials registries for ongoing and unpublished studies on 24 June 2017, and screened reference lists to identify additional studies. We used no restrictions with respect to language, date of publication, or study setting.

Selection criteria: Randomised controlled trials or cluster randomised controlled trials that 1) compared phototherapy with sham phototherapy, no phototherapy, or other physical therapy modalities, 2) compared different forms of phototherapy, or 3) compared phototherapy of different output power, wavelength, power density, or dose range, in adults with diabetes and an open foot ulcer of any severity, in any setting.

Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently performed study selection, data extraction, and 'Risk of bias' assessment. We combined the study outcomes when appropriate.

Main results: Eight trials with 316 participants met the inclusion criteria. Most of the included studies were single-centre studies that were carried out in clinics or hospitals with a sample size ranging from 14 to 84. We generally considered the included studies to be at unclear or high risk of bias, as they had one domain at high risk of bias, or three or more domains at unclear risk of bias.We did not identify any studies that reported valid data for time to complete wound healing. Meta-analysis of four studies including 116 participants indicated that participants receiving phototherapy may experience a greater proportion of wounds completely healed during follow-up compared with those receiving no phototherapy/placebo (64.5% for the phototherapy group versus 37.0% for the no phototherapy/placebo group; risk ratio 1.57, 95% confidence interval 1.08 to 2.28; low-quality evidence, downgraded for study limitations and imprecision). Two studies mentioned adverse events in the results; one study with 16 participants suggested that there were no device-related adverse events, and the other study with 14 participants suggested that there was no clear difference between phototherapy and placebo group.Four studies reported change in ulcer size, but primarily due to high heterogeneity, they were not combined. Results from individual trials (including 16 participants to 84 participants) generally suggested that after two to four weeks of treatment phototherapy may result in a greater reduction in ulcer size but the quality of the evidence was low due to unclear risk of bias in the original trial and small sample size. We based the analyses for quality of life and amputations on only one study each (28 participants and 23 participants respectively); both outcomes showed no clear difference between the phototherapy group and the no phototherapy/placebo group.

Authors' conclusions: This systematic review of randomised trials suggested that phototherapy, when compared to no phototherapy/placebo, may increase the proportion of wounds completely healed during follow-up and may reduce wound size in people with diabetes, but there was no evidence that phototherapy improves quality of life. Due to the small sample size and methodological flaws in the original trials, the quality of the evidence was low, which reduces our confidence in these results. Large, well-designed randomised controlled trials are needed to confirm whether phototherapy could be an effective option for the treatment of foot ulcers in people with diabetes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Diabetic Foot / therapy*
  • Foot Ulcer / therapy
  • Humans
  • Phototherapy / adverse effects
  • Phototherapy / methods*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Wound Healing