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Does low-intensity laser therapy for osteoarthritis work?

Q) Could you give me your opinion of low-intensity laser therapy for osteoarthritis? Is it effective and safe, and how does it compare to other established therapies?
Norma, Co Dublin (Spring 2008

A) It appears safe enough. However, the clinical trials in osteoarthritis to date haven't been very encouraging. In fact, a meta-analysis (where the results of all the trials are pooled together) showed only mild benefit for pain and no benefit for stiffness or function. How does it work? Well, it probably doesn’t, but users of this treatment say that the light penetrates and interacts with the deeper tissues of the body. You might like to have a look at a review of osteoarthritis treatments by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) – see their website Here they review the evidence for all the treatments used for osteoarthritis, including physiotherapy, anti-inflammatory drugs and glucosamine.

This answer was provided by Dr Philip Helliwell for the Spring 2008 edition of our magazine, Arthritis Today, and was correct at the time of publication.

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