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Efficacy of low-level laser therapy on pain and disability in knee osteoarthritis: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised placebo-controlled trials
  1. Martin Bjørn Stausholm1,
  2. Ingvill Fjell Naterstad1,
  3. Jon Joensen1,
  4. Rodrigo Álvaro Brandão Lopes-Martins2,
  5. Humaira Sæbø1,
  6. Hans Lund3,
  7. Kjartan Vibe Fersum1,
  8. Jan Magnus Bjordal1
  1. 1 Department of Global Public Health and Primary Care, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway
  2. 2 Instituto de Pesquisa & Desenvolvimento, Universidade do Vale do Paraíba, São José dos Campos, Brazil
  3. 3 Centre for Evidence-Based Practice, Hogskulen pa Vestlandet, Bergen, Norway
  1. Correspondence to Martin Bjørn Stausholm; m.b.stausholm{at}


Objectives Low-level laser therapy (LLLT) is not recommended in major knee osteoarthritis (KOA) treatment guidelines. We investigated whether a LLLT dose–response relationship exists in KOA.

Design Systematic review and meta-analysis.

Data sources Eligible articles were identified through PubMed, Embase, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, Physiotherapy Evidence Database and Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials on 18 February 2019, reference lists, a book, citations and experts in the field.

Eligibility criteria for selecting studies We solely included randomised placebo-controlled trials involving participants with KOA according to the American College of Rheumatology and/or Kellgren/Lawrence criteria, in which LLLT was applied to participants’ knee(s). There were no language restrictions.

Data extraction and synthesis The included trials were synthesised with random effects meta-analyses and subgrouped by dose using the World Association for Laser Therapy treatment recommendations. Cochrane’s risk-of-bias tool was used.

Results 22 trials (n=1063) were meta-analysed. Risk of bias was insignificant. Overall, pain was significantly reduced by LLLT compared with placebo at the end of therapy (14.23 mm Visual Analogue Scale (VAS; 95% CI 7.31 to 21.14)) and during follow-ups 1–12 weeks later (15.92 mm VAS (95% CI 6.47 to 25.37)). The subgroup analysis revealed that pain was significantly reduced by the recommended LLLT doses compared with placebo at the end of therapy (18.71 mm (95% CI 9.42 to 27.99)) and during follow-ups 2–12 weeks after the end of therapy (23.23 mm VAS (95% CI 10.60 to 35.86)). The pain reduction from the recommended LLLT doses peaked during follow-ups 2–4 weeks after the end of therapy (31.87 mm VAS significantly beyond placebo (95% CI 18.18 to 45.56)). Disability was also statistically significantly reduced by LLLT. No adverse events were reported.

Conclusion LLLT reduces pain and disability in KOA at 4–8 J with 785–860 nm wavelength and at 1–3 J with 904 nm wavelength per treatment spot.

PROSPERO registration number CRD42016035587.

  • phototherapy
  • laser therapy
  • knee osteoarthritis
  • systematic review
  • meta-analysis

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  • Contributors MBS, JMB and HL wrote the PROSPERO protocol. MBS and JMB selected the trials, with the involvement of IFN when necessary. MBS and JJ judged the risk of bias, with the involvement of IFN when necessary. MBS and IFN did the translations. MBS, JMB and KVF extracted the data. MBS performed the analyses, under supervision of JMB. All the authors participated in interpreting of the results. MBS drafted the first version of the manuscript, and subsequently revised it, based on comments by RÁBL-M, HS and all the other authors. All the authors read and accepted the final version of the manuscript.

  • Funding The University of Bergen funded this research.

  • Competing interests JMB and RÁBL-M are post-presidents and former board members of World Association for Laser Therapy, a non-for-profit research organization from which they have never received funding, grants or fees. The other authors declared that they had no conflict of interests related to this work.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement The dataset for meta-analysis is available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request. The corresponding author affirms that the manuscript is an honest, accurate and transparent account of the study being reported; that no important aspects of the study have been omitted; and that any discrepancies from the study as planned (and, if relevant, registered) have been explained.