Low-Level Laser Therapy including Laser Acupuncture for Non-Specific Chronic Low Back Pain: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Article information

J Acupunct Res. 2021;38(1):8-19
Publication date (electronic) : 2021 February 22
doi : https://doi.org/10.13045/jar.2020.00283
Department of Acupuncture and Moxibustion Medicine, Kyung Hee University Korean Medicine Hospital, Seoul, Korea
*Corresponding author: Nam Dongwoo, Department of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, College of Korean Medicine, Kyung Hee University, 26 Kyungheedae-ro, Dongdaemun-gu, Seoul, 02447, Korea, E-mail: hanisanam@khu.ac.kr
Received 2020 September 16; Revised 2020 November 6; Accepted 2020 December 11.

Abstract

Low-level laser therapy including laser acupuncture (LLLT/LA) has been widely used for non-specific chronic low back pain (NCLBP). However, there is no critically appraised evidence of its potential benefits. This study aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of LLLT/LA for NCLBP. There were 12 databases (MEDLINE, CENTRAL, EMBASE, KoreaMed, KMBASE, KISS, NDSL, KISTI, OASIS, CNKI, CiNII, J-stage) searched for randomized controlled trials using LLLT/LA for NCLBP up until June 2019. The primary outcome was pain intensity and functional status/disability due to NCLBP. A random-effects meta-analysis was conducted on 20 studies involving 1,323 participants. LLLT/LA showed a significant positive effect on pain relief scores compared with sham treatments (SMD −0.51, 95% CI: −0.88 to −0.13; χ2 = 31.12, I2 = 74%). Alone, the therapy showed a significant positive effect on function/disability scores (30 participants, MD −11.90, 95% CI: −17.37 to −6.43). As an add-on treatment, it showed a significant positive effect on pain relief (80 participants, MD −5.10, 95% CI: −9.31 to −0.88; χ2 = 28.99, I2 = 97%) and improved function/disability scores (120 participants, MD 5.44, 95% CI: 2.19 to 8.68; χ2 = 4.07, I2 = 75%). Among 20 studies, 9 studies reported no adverse events and 1 study reported mild adverse events. LLLT/LA may be an alternative or add-on treatment for NCLBP.

Introduction

Low back pain (LBP) is a common musculoskeletal disorder affecting 80% of people at some point in their lives. It is estimated that 10% to 20% of affected adults develop symptoms of chronic LBP (CLBP) lasting over 12 weeks [1]. A survey on the use of Korean Medical Institutions and consumption of Korean Herbal Medicine, conducted by the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare in 2011 and 2017, reported that patients with LBP accessed Korean medical institutions the most, and accounted for 12.89% in 2011 and 52.7% in 2017 [2,3]. Non-specific chronic low back pain (NCLBP) is defined as pain lasting over 12 weeks with no clear underlying etiology. Aging is associated with lower recovery rates and higher levels or chronicity and severity [4]. According to the bio-psychosocial model, chronic pain is associated with biological, psychological, and social factors such as distress (depression, anxiety, and fear), self-efficacy, smoking, drinking, and working life [5]. Therefore, while NCLBP is not life-threatening, it reduces a patient’s quality of life.

Low-level laser therapy including laser acupuncture (LLLT/LA) induces a photochemical reaction in cells (biostimulation or photobiomodulation) to aid tissue repair and relieve pain [6]. In 2017, the American College of Physicians developed guidelines to provide clinical recommendations for non-invasive treatment of LBP, and strongly recommended that non-pharmacological treatments including LLLT should be considered for patients with CLBP [79].

To date, there have been no studies about LLLT/LA for NCLBP that incorporated data collected in Korea, China, and Japan; this study addressed this and critically evaluated the efficacy of LLLT/LA for NCLBP.

Materials and Methods

This systematic review was reported according to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses (PRISMA) [10]. The protocol for this systematic review was prospectively registered on PORSPERO CRD42019140419.

Database search and study selection

There were 12 bibliographic databases searched up until June 2019: MEDLINE (PubMed), EMBASE (Ovid), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), Korean database (KoreaMed, KMBASE, KISS, NDSL, KISTI, OASIS), the China National Knowledge Infrastructure Database (CNKI), and Japanese databases (CiNII, J-STAGE).

The search strategy followed the study protocol. The search terms comprised of 2 parts, LLLT/LA (e.g., laser, laser acupuncture, laser puncture, laser needle, low-dose laser acupuncture, LLLT, low-level laser, laser therapy, laser treatment) and CLBP (e.g., lower back pain, sciatica, radiculopathy, lumbago, backache, back pain, lumbo-sacral, NCLBP). To increase the sensitivity of the search for NCLBP, concepts such as radiculopathy and sciatica were included. In some cases, the LLLT/LA parameters were classified, however, in the case of the lower back, it was difficult to avoid using acupuncture points during treatment due to their high density of use. Moreover, laser treatments have an “Alpha-phenomenon” effect that shows an indirect biostimulation effect on the surrounding tissues. In this review, all randomized controlled trials (RCTs) where LLLT/LA was performed were analyzed. Observational, cohort, case reports, case series, non-RCT, animal and experimental studies were excluded from this review.

Two reviewers independently screened the studies and after analysis made the final decision of which studies to include.

Data extraction and assessment of risk bias

Study data including the intervention description, baseline, demographics, and values for outcomes was extracted by 2 reviewers and checked for accuracy by a third reviewer. The primary outcomes were: (1) Pain intensity measured on a visual analog scale (VAS) or the numeric rating scale (NRS) and (2) Functional status/disability measured by the Oswestry disability index (ODI) or Japanese orthopaedic association (JOA) scale. The secondary outcomes included range of motion (ROM), results from the Modified Schober test, global assessment of quality of life, and negative side effects.

The study quality was assessed according to the criteria described in the Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Review of Intervention, and RCTs were assessed using the Cochrane Bias Risk tool.

Statistical analysis

The Review Manager (e.g., Cochrane Collaboration Software, RevMan version 5.3.5) was used for data management and statistical analysis. For continuous data, treatment effects were expressed as a mean difference (MD) or standardized mean difference (SMD) with a 95% confidence interval (CI) level. Meta-analysis was used to combine the results of trials using a random-effects model. Data was presented as a forest plot. Heterogeneity was evaluated using heterogeneity test (I2 statistic).

Results

Description of the included studies

A total of 1,019 studies were retrieved from 12 online databases. After screening the articles and removing duplicates, 20 studies (RCTs) were selected according to the inclusion criteria [8,9,1128], and were conducted in 11 countries with a combined total of 1,323 patients (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1

A PRISMA flow diagram of the literature screening and selection processes.

MEDLINE, PubMed; CENTRAL, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials; EMBASE, Ovid; CNKI, the China National Knowledge Infrastructure Database; CiNII, Scholarly and Academic Information Navigator, pronounced like “sigh-knee”; J-STAGE, Science and Technology Agency Electronic journal platform; PRISMA, Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses.

Intervention analysis

The 20 studies consisted of 13 RCTs comparing LLLT/LA with sham laser therapy [8,9,1121], 2 trials comparing LLLT/LA with no treatment [24,26], 4 trials comparing LLLT/LA used as add-on therapy with a control group [24,25,27,28], and 1 study which compared the effects of 2 laser treatment methods on different conditions [23].

Of these 20 studies, 2 trials were 3-arm RCTs, 1 compared low-dose laser treatment with high-dose laser treatment, and sham laser treatment [13], 1 compared LLLT and exercise in combination with ultrasound and exercise in combination, and to exercise alone [24]. Three of the studies could not be included in the analysis because the laser treatment methods varied between individual groups [13,22,23]. The characteristics of the included studies are listed (Tables 14).

Summary of the Included Studies Comparing LLLT / LA and Sham-LLLT/LA Therapy.

Summary of the Included Studies Comparing LLLT/ LA as Alone with Other Therapies.

Summary of the Included Studies Comparing LLLT/ LA as Add-on Treatment.

Summary of the Included Studies Comparing Two Methods of LLLT/ LA.

Furthermore, LLLT/LA is a treatment method that uses a laser device, therefore, the following laser parameters and treatment characteristics were recorded: wavelength, power, energy density, beam size, number of treatments, treatment time, treatment sessions and treatment intervals. Where particular laser parameters were not reported, values were calculated from formulas using the reported parameters. The characteristics of the laser parameters are listed (Tables 58).

LLLT/LA Methods of Included Studies Comparing LLLT/ LA and Sham-LLLT/ LA Therapy.

LLLT/LA Methods of Included Studies Comparing LLLT/ LA as Alone with Other Therapies.

LLLT Including LA Methods of Included Studies Comparing LLLT/ LA as Add-on Treatment.

LLLT/LA Methods of Included Studies Comparing 2 Methods of LLLT/LA.

Primary outcomes

Comparing LLLT/LA with sham-LLLT/LA therapy

With regards to pain, 4 of the 13 studies were excluded. Three studies evaluated pain relief by the amount of change in the VAS score without reporting exact values [9,14,17], and 1 study described the results by the degree of change in the chronic pain index [21]. In 9 studies involving 495 participants, the VAS and NRS were used to evaluate the degree of pain relief, and LLLT/LA significantly reduced pain compared with sham treatment (SMD −0.51, 95% CI: −0.88 to −0.13; χ2 = 31.12, I2 = 74%; Fig. 2).

Fig. 2

The effectiveness of LLLT/LA versus sham LLLT including LA on pain relief

CI, confidence interval; Df, degree of freedom; IV, information value; LA, laser acupuncture; LLLT, low-level laser therapy.

With regards to function/disability, 4 out of 13 studies evaluated outcomes using ODI values [8,1113]. In 4 studies (277 participants), LLLTs with LA had no significant effect compared with sham treatment (MD −2.68, 95% CI: −9.15 to 3.79; χ2 = 38.40, I2 = 92%; Fig. 3).

Fig. 3

The effectiveness of LLLT/LA versus sham LLLT/LA on function and disability measured by ODI.

CI, confidence interval; Df, degree of freedom; IV, information value; LA, laser acupuncture; LLLT, low-level laser therapy; ODI, Oswestry disability index.

Comparing LLLT/LA as alone with other therapies

With regards to pain, 2 studies applied LLLT/LA alone; 1 study compared LLLT/LA with ultrasound treatment [24], and 1 study compared LLLT/LA with chu-na therapy [26]. There was significant pain relief in the study where LLLT/LA alone was compared with ultrasound therapy alone (30 participants, MD −1.12, 95% CI: −2.09 to −0.15). In the study comparing LLLT/LA with chu-na therapy, there was no significant effect on pain relief (106 participants, MD 0.03, 95% CI: −0.31 to 0.37; Fig. 4).

Fig. 4

The effectiveness of LLLT/LA as alone on pain relief

CI, confidence interval; Df, degree of freedom; LA, laser acupuncture; LLLT, low-level laser therapy; IV, information value.

With regards to function/disability, 1 study showed a significant positive effect on the ODI between LLLT/LA alone and ultrasound therapy alone [26] (30 participants, MD −11.90, 95% CI: −17.37 to −6.43; Fig. 5).

Fig. 5

The effectiveness of LLLT/ LA as alone on function and disability measured by ODI

CI, confidence interval; Df, degree of freedom; IV, information value; LA, laser acupuncture; LLLT, low-level laser therapy; ODI, Oswestry disability index.

Comparing LLLT/LA as add-on treatment

With regards to pain, 2 studies where LLLT/LA was applied as add-on treatment showed a significant positive effect on pain relief [24,28] (80 participants, MD −5.10, 95% CI: −9.31 to −0.88; χ2 = 28.99, I2 = 97%; Fig. 6).

Fig. 6

The effectiveness of LLLT/LA as add-on treatment of pain relief

CI, confidence interval; Df, degree of freedom; LA, laser acupuncture; LLLT, low-level laser therapy; IV, information value.

With regards to function/disability, 2 studies used the JOA scale to evaluate outcomes [25,27], and a further 2 used the ODI [24,28]. A higher JOA scale score and a lower ODI score post-treatment indicated increased effectiveness at improving dysfunction. As an add-on treatment, LLLT/LA significantly improved function and disability in the studies evaluated using the JOA scale (120 participants, MD 5.44, 95% CI: 2.19 to 8.68; χ2 = 4.07, I2 = 75%). In the studies using the ODI, there was no significance noted (80 participants, SMD −0.81, 95% CI: −2.74 to 1.13; χ2 = 14.05, I2 = 93%; Figs. 7 and 8).

Fig. 7

The effectiveness of LLLT/LA as add-on treatment on function and disability measured by JOA

CI, confidence interval; Df, degree of freedom; IV, information value; JOA, Japanese orthopaedic association; LA, laser acupuncture; LLLT, low-level laser therapy.

Fig. 8

The effectiveness of LLLT/LA as add-on treatment on function and disability measured by ODI

CI, confidence interval; Df, degree of freedom; IV, information value; LA, laser acupuncture; LLLT, low-level laser therapy; ODI, Oswestry disability index.

Adverse reactions and side effects

Ten RCTs reported adverse reactions/negative side effects. Of these, 9 reported no adverse reactions [9,11,13,14,17,18,20,21,23], and in 1 RCT, adverse reactions were reported as mild “warmth” which occurred more often during treatment in the active group [8]. No adverse reactions were noted in the other 10 studies [12,15,16,19,22,2428].

Risk of bias

The risk of bias was assessed for the 20 RCTs according to the Cochrane handbook (Figs. 9 and 10).

Fig. 9

Risk of bias graph

Fig. 10

Risk of bias summary.

Random sequence generation

Low risk was observed in 12 studies [8,1114,17,18,20,2224]. The other 8 studies were evaluated as unclear risk [9,15,19,21,2528].

Allocation concealment

Low risk was observed in 12 studies [8,1114,17,18,20,2224]. The other 8 studies were evaluated as unclear risk [9,15,19,21,2528].

Blinding of participants and personnel

Two studies were evaluated as high risk, which clearly stated that blinding of the study was not possible for the therapist [14,23]. Eight studies were deemed low risk as they reported that therapist was independently blinded to the study [8,9,1113,16,17,20]. The other 10 studies were evaluated as unclear risk [15,18,19,21,22,2428].

Blinding of outcome assessment

Low risk was observed in 10 studies that mentioned independent researcher and evaluators [1114,16,17,20,23,24,28]. The other 10 studies were classified as unclear risk [8,9,15,18,19,21,22,2527].

Incomplete outcome data

Low risk was observed in 17 studies that had no dropouts or similar occurrence of missing values between groups. The other 3 studies were evaluated as unclear risk [17,21,22].

Selective reporting

Five studies that reported results according to the previous protocols were classified low risk [12,13,17,18,24]. Two studies reported an incomplete result and was evaluated as high risk [9,21]. There were 13 studies that did not report the protocol and were classified as unclear risk [8,11,1416,19,20,22,23,2528].

Other bias

None of the 20 studies reported all the laser parameters. Six of the studies were evaluated as high risk because some important parameters could not be calculated [11,21,23,2527].

Discussion

The US Bureau of Statistics published “An Aging World: 2015” which predicted that from 2025 to 2050, the older population is projected to almost double to 1.6 billion globally, whereas the total population will grow by just 34% over the same period [29]. When life expectancy is increasing and aging is rapidly progressing, pain is 1 of the main indicators of quality of life. Chronic pain not only limits daily life at work/home, it also impairs mental health and negatively affects the economy. Several South Korean surveys (the Survey on the Elderly, the National Health and Nutrition Survey, and the Aging Research Panel Survey) reported that 90% of pain in men and women over 60 years of age occurred in the musculoskeletal area, with lower back pain, and knee pain being the most prevalent [30].

NCLBP is a condition where non-pharmaceutical treatment is recommended over pharmaceutical therapy. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory analgesics and/or muscle relaxants are used to alleviate symptoms. However, these forms of pharmaceutical therapy require a risk-benefit assessment due to potential side effects (increased risk of renal failure, gastric ulcers, and cardiovascular disease) [31].

LLLT/LA is a non-invasive treatment without the risk of pain or infection. It has been used to manage chronic pain in Korean medical clinics and has high patient satisfaction. However, it is difficult to prove its efficacy because each RCT is conducted under different conditions using different laser machine specifications. In this systematic review, as many databases as possible were used from the USA, Europe, Korea, China, and Japan. The efficacy of LLLT/LA on NCLBP was investigated under 3 conditions: comparison with a control group, comparison with other treatments, and efficacy as an add-on treatment.

The 20 studies that were selected covered 11 countries and included a total of 1,323 patients. Among the 13 studies comparing LLLT/LA with sham treatment, 7 mentioned a positive effect on pain reduction in the experimental group compared with the control group. As a result of VAS score analysis of the 9 studies that could be analyzed, a significant positive effect on pain relief was confirmed. In the 4 studies that could not be analyzed concerning the improvement of function/disability, the result of the ODI analysis showed no significance. There was a significant positive effect on pain relief and function/disability in the study where LLLT/LA group was compared with ultrasound treatment. When compared with chu-na treatment, there was no significant improvement in pain relief between the 2 groups. However, each group did show significant pain improvement after treatment. Further study is required to fully assess these outcomes. LLLT/LA as an add-on treatment showed a significant positive effect on pain relief. With regards to the improvements in function/disability, the 2 studies using the JOA scale showed a significant positive effect and the 2 studies using the ODI scale showed no significant positive effect. As a result, LLLT/LA showed a significant positive effect on pain relief and function/disability improvement during a short period.

This study is not without its limitations. Firstly, with increasing age came a higher association of LBP with the underlying disease, therefore the number of studies on NCLBP was small compared with the total number of studies retrieved. All Japanese studies had to be excluded due to inclusion of LBP associated with the underlying disease. Secondly, chronic pain is correlated to quality of life. However, the treatment and evaluation periods in most studies were too short to evaluate any long-term biopsychosocial outcomes. Therefore, this should be considered when designing future studies to evaluate the possibility of LLLT/LA as a therapy for chronic pain management in an aging era. Finally, many of the studies presented were not of high quality.

This study determined that LLLT/LA may be an effective and safe intervention for NCLBP. However, there were no studies conducted under the same treatment conditions, therefore further well-designed studies are required to determine which treatment condition is most effective. Therefore, moving forward, establishing a more accurate treatment method will require well-designed studies.

Conclusion

This systematic review and meta-analysis suggest that LLLT/ LA may be considered as an alternative or add-on treatment for NCLBP. LLLT/LA has a significant positive effect on reducing pain and improving the function/disability and has rare serious adverse events.

Notes

Conflicts of Interest

The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.

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Article information Continued

Fig. 1

A PRISMA flow diagram of the literature screening and selection processes.

MEDLINE, PubMed; CENTRAL, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials; EMBASE, Ovid; CNKI, the China National Knowledge Infrastructure Database; CiNII, Scholarly and Academic Information Navigator, pronounced like “sigh-knee”; J-STAGE, Science and Technology Agency Electronic journal platform; PRISMA, Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses.

Fig. 2

The effectiveness of LLLT/LA versus sham LLLT including LA on pain relief

CI, confidence interval; Df, degree of freedom; IV, information value; LA, laser acupuncture; LLLT, low-level laser therapy.

Fig. 3

The effectiveness of LLLT/LA versus sham LLLT/LA on function and disability measured by ODI.

CI, confidence interval; Df, degree of freedom; IV, information value; LA, laser acupuncture; LLLT, low-level laser therapy; ODI, Oswestry disability index.

Fig. 4

The effectiveness of LLLT/LA as alone on pain relief

CI, confidence interval; Df, degree of freedom; LA, laser acupuncture; LLLT, low-level laser therapy; IV, information value.

Fig. 5

The effectiveness of LLLT/ LA as alone on function and disability measured by ODI

CI, confidence interval; Df, degree of freedom; IV, information value; LA, laser acupuncture; LLLT, low-level laser therapy; ODI, Oswestry disability index.

Fig. 6

The effectiveness of LLLT/LA as add-on treatment of pain relief

CI, confidence interval; Df, degree of freedom; LA, laser acupuncture; LLLT, low-level laser therapy; IV, information value.

Fig. 7

The effectiveness of LLLT/LA as add-on treatment on function and disability measured by JOA

CI, confidence interval; Df, degree of freedom; IV, information value; JOA, Japanese orthopaedic association; LA, laser acupuncture; LLLT, low-level laser therapy.

Fig. 8

The effectiveness of LLLT/LA as add-on treatment on function and disability measured by ODI

CI, confidence interval; Df, degree of freedom; IV, information value; LA, laser acupuncture; LLLT, low-level laser therapy; ODI, Oswestry disability index.

Fig. 9

Risk of bias graph

Fig. 10

Risk of bias summary.

Table 1

Summary of the Included Studies Comparing LLLT / LA and Sham-LLLT/LA Therapy.

First author, year Nation Intervention group (allocated Pt./analyzed Pt.) Comparison group (allocated Pt./analyzed Pt.) Main outcomes Intergroup difference Adverse event Authors conclusion
Basford 1999 [8] USA LILI (30/27) Sham LILI (29/29) 1) ODI
2) Modified Schober test
3) VAS
1) p = 0.001
2) p = 0.949
3) p = 0.007
No SAEs Laser > control (in pain and function), benefits decreased with time.
Djavid 2007 [11] Iran LLLT (20/19) Sham LLLT (19/18) 1) VAS
2) Schober test
3) Lumber flexion
4) Lumbar extension
5) Right lateral flexion
6) Left lateral flexion
7) ODI
1) p = 0.03
2) p < 0.01
3) p < 0.01
4)–6) Not different
7) p = 0.03
No AEs Laser > control (in pain and function)
Glazov 2009 [12] Australia LA (50/45) Sham LA (50/45) 1) VAS
2) ODI
3) Global assessment of effectiveness of treatment
4) DASS-21
5) PWI-A
6) SWH
1)–7) Not different n.r. No difference
Glazov 2014 [13] Australia LA (48/48) Sham LA (48/46) 1) NRS
2) ODI
3) NLARS
1)–2) Not different No AEs No difference
Heish 2013 [14] Taiwan Light therapy (35/33) Sham Light therapy (35/27) 1) L-spine ROM
2) VAS
3) MFI
4) Biodex Stability System
5) FABQ
6) FAI
7) ODI
8) 5 repeated chair-rising time, Osteoarthritis quality of life
1)–4) Not different
5) p = 0.04 (physical)
p = 0.007 (work)
7) p = 0.021
6),8) Not different
No AEs Laser > control (in the severity of disability and fear avoidance beliefs)
Lin 2012 [15] Taiwan LA (28/21) Sham LA (29/21) 1) VAS
2) Ryodoraku value
1) Not different
2) changed back to almost original values in active group (reinforcing effect)
n.r. No difference
Lin 2017 [16] Taiwan LA (25/20) Sham LA (23/20) 1) VAS
2) Plasma cortisol levels
1) p = 0.005
2) p = 0.65
n.r. Laser > control (in pain)
Shin 2015 [17] Republic of Korea LA (28/28) Sham LA (28/26) 1) VAS
2) PGIC
3) PPT
4) EQ-5D
1)–4) Not different No AEs and SAEs No difference
Soriano 1998 [9] Argentina Laser Treatment (38) Sham Laser Treatment (33) 1) VAS (0–29% relief, poor)
2) VAS (30–59% relief, regular)
3) VAS (60–89% relief, good)
4) VAS (90–100% relief, excellent)
5) Therapeutic efficacy
1)–3) n.r
4) p < 0.01
5) p < 0.007
No AEs Laser > sham (in pain)
Vallone 2014 [18] Italy Diod Laser (50) Sham Diod Laser (50) 1) VAS 1) p < 0.001 No AEs Laser > sham (in pain)
Choi 2007 [19] Republic of Korea LLLI (8) Sham LLLI (8) 1) VAS
2) Modified Schober test
1) p = 0.001
2) p = 0.010
n.r. Laser > sham (in pain and lumbar mobility)
Klein 1990 [20] USA LELT (10) Sham LELT (10) 1) VAS
2) Disability score
3) Lumbar flexion
4) Lumbar rotation
5) Lumbar side flexion
6) Lumbar extension
7) isometric torque
8) isodynamic velocity
1) p = 0.493
2) p = 0.919
3)–8) Not different
No AEs No difference
Ruth 2010 [21] Germany LA (51/46) Sham LA (51/47) 1) Chronic pain Index
2) Disability score
3) FABQ
1)–3) Not different No AEs No difference

LILI, low-intensity laser irradiation; LLLT, low-level laser therapy; LA, laser acupuncture; LLLI, low-level laser irradiation; LELT, low-energy laser treatment; ODI, Oswestry disability index; VAS, visual analog scale; DASS, depression anxiety stress scale; PWI, personal wellbeing index; SWH, satisfaction with health; NRS, numerical rating scale; NLARS, numerical rating scale of limitation of activities; MFI, multi-fatigue inventory; FABQ, fear-avoidance behavior questionnaire; FAI, Frenchay activities index; PGIC, patient global impression of change; PPT, pressure pain threshold; EQ-5D, Euro-Wuality-of-Life Five Dimensions; n.r., not reported; AE, adverse event; SAE, serious adverse event; allocated Pt., number of allocated patients; analyzed Pt., number of analyzed patients.

Table 2

Summary of the Included Studies Comparing LLLT/ LA as Alone with Other Therapies.

First author, year Nation Intervention group (allocated Pt./analyzed Pt.) Comparison group (allocated Pt./analyzed Pt.) Main outcomes Intergroup difference Adverse event Authors conclusion
Tantawy 2019 [24] Kingdom of Bahrain LP (15/15) US (15/15) 1) Modified ODI
2) VAS
3) PDI
4) 6 MWT
5) Flexion ROM
6) Extension ROM
1) p = 0.001
2) p = 0.03
3) p = 0.01
4) p = 0.04
5) p = 0.03
6) p = 0.04
n.r. LP > US (in pain, disability, mobility)
Liu 2017 [26] China LI (53) Manipulation (53) 1) VAS
2) ICF
1)–2) p > 0.05 n.r. No difference

LP, laser photomodulaton; US, ultrasound therapy; LI, linear-polarized near- infared light; ODI, Oswestry disability index; VAS, visual analog scale; PDI, pain disability index; 6 MWT, 6-minute walk test; ROM, range of motion; ICF, international classification of functioning, disability and health; Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses.

Table 3

Summary of the Included Studies Comparing LLLT/ LA as Add-on Treatment.

First author, year Nation Intervention group (allocated Pt./analyzed Pt.) Comparison group (allocated Pt./analyzed Pt.) Main outcomes Intergroup difference Adverse event Authors conclusion
Tantawy 2019 [24] Kingdom of Bahrain (1) LP+ (2) Ex (15/15) (2) Ex (15/15) 1) Modified ODI
2) VAS
3) PDI
4) 6 MWT
5) Flexion ROM
6) Extension ROM
1)–6) p < 0.05 n.r. LP+Ex. > Ex. (in pain, disability, mobility)
Guo 2010 [25] China (1) Diode Laser+ (2) Maitland technique (30) (2) Maitland technique (30) 1) JOA 1) p < 0.01 n.r. Laser (1) + (2) > (2) (in disability)
Qin 2010 [27] China (1) Laser diode radiation + (2) Massage (30) (2) Massage (30) 1) JOA 1) p < 0.01 n.r. Laser (1) + (2) > (2) (in disability)
Gur 2003 [28] Turky (1) LPLT + (2) Ex. (25) (2) Ex. (25) 1) VAS
2) Roland disability questionnaire
3) Modifide ODI
4) Schober test
5) Antero-posterior flexion
6) lateral flexion (right)
7) lateral extension (left)
1)–5) p > 0.05 n.r. No difference

LP, laser photomodulaton; Ex., exercise; LPLT, low power laser therapy; ODI, Oswestry disability index; VAS, visual analog scale; PDI, pain disability index; 6 MWT, 6-minute walk test; ROM, range of motion; JOA, Japanese orthopaedic association; n.r., not reported; allocated Pt., number of allocated patients; analyzed Pt., number of analyzed patients.

Table 4

Summary of the Included Studies Comparing Two Methods of LLLT/ LA.

First author, year Nation Intervention group (allocated Pt./analyzed Pt.) Comparison group (allocated Pt./analyzed Pt.) Main outcomes Intergroup difference Adverse event Authors conclusion
Ammar 2015 [22] Egypt MIPE (39/35) LLLT (37/35) 1) FRI
2) VAS
3) Flexion ROM
4) Extension ROM
1) p = 0.21
2) p = 0.41
3) p = 0.81
4) p = 0.16
n.r. No difference
Dogan 2017 [23] Turky LLLT 1 (20) LLLT 2 (29) 1) VAS
2) Patient’s global assessment
3) Physician’s global assessment
4) Modified Schober test
5) Right lateral flexion
6) Left lateral flexion
7) Modifide ODI
1) p = 0.901
2) p = 0.569
3) p = 0.925
4) p = 0.061
5)–7) p < 0.01
No AEs No difference
Glazov 2014 [13] Australia LA1 (48/48) LA2 (48/47) 1) NRS
2) ODI
3) NLARS
1)–2) Not different No AEs No difference

MIPE, monochromic infrared photo energy; LLLT, low-level laser therapy; LA, laser acupuncture; LLLI, low-level laser irradiation; LELT, low-energy laser treatment; FRI, functional rating index; VAS, visual analog scale; ROM, range of motion; ODI, Oswestry disability index; NRS, numerical rating scale; NLARS, numerical rating scale of limitation of activities; n.r., not reported; AE, adverse event; allocated Pt., number of allocated patients; analyzed Pt., number of analyzed patients.

Table 5

LLLT/LA Methods of Included Studies Comparing LLLT/ LA and Sham-LLLT/ LA Therapy.

First author, year Study design Medium (model, manufacturer) Wavelength (nm)/type Power output (mW)/power density (mW/cm2) Energy density (J/cm2) / dose/point (J/point) Beam size/ number of treatment/treatment time Treatment session & interval Other interventions on both group
Basford 1999 [8] RCT Nd:YAG (1.06 μm Nd:YAG continuous-wave laser) 1,060 / continuous 2,660*/ 542 48.78 / 239.3* 2.5 cm (diameter) / 8 points (along the L2–L3)/ 90 s*8 = 720 s (12 min) 12 times, 3 times a week, 4 weeks None
Djavid 2007 [11] RCT GaAlAs (n.r.) 810 / continuous 50 / 226.1* 27 / 5.9697* 0.2211 cm2 / 8 points in paravertebral region (L2 to S2–3) / 20 min 12 times, 2 times a week, 6 weeks Exercise
Glazov 2009 [12] RCT GaAlAs (Acupak, Melbourne, Australia) 830 / continuous 10 / 50 1* / 0.2 0.2 cm2 / 8 points (individualized acupoints) / 20 s/points 5~10 times, once a week, average of 9.1 weekly sessions Exercise
Glazov 2014 [13] RCT GaAlAs (Acupak, Melbourne, Australia) 830 / continuous 20 / 100 1* / 0.2 0.2 cm2 / 9 points (individualized acupoints) / 10 s/points 8 times, once a week, 8 weeks None
Heish 2013 [14] RCT GaAlAs (Anodyne Therapy Professional System 480 (Anodyne, Tampa, FL, USA) 890 / n.r. 780 / 34.7 83.28 / 1,873.8* 22.5 cm2 / 8 points (Low back region) / 40 min 6 times, 3 times a week, 2 weeks Hot-pack
Lin 2012 [15] RCT n.r.
(LA400, United Integrated Services Co., Ltd., Taiwan)
808 / pulse type (pulse rate 20Hz) 20 (40;50% duty cycle of pulse) / 25 15 / 12* 0.8 cm2/ 4 points (BL40, Ashi acupoints) / 10 min 5 times, 5 times a week, one week Soft cupping
Lin 2017 [16] RCT n.r.
(LA400, United Integrated Services Co., Ltd., Taiwan)
808 / pulse type (pulse rate 20Hz) 20 (40;50% duty cycle of pulse) / 25 15 / 12* 0.8 cm2/ 4 points (BL40, Ashi acupoints) / 10 min 5 times, 5 times a week, one week Chinese cupping
Shin 2015 [17] RCT n.r.
(Solco-LF100, Solco Biomedical Co., Ltd., Pyeongtaek, Korea)
660 / pulse type (pulse rate 200 Hz) 25 (50;50% duty cycle of pulse) / 625* 112.5 / 4.5* 0.04 cm2/ 13 acupoints (GV3, GV4, GV5, bilateral BL23, BL24, BL25, BL40, GB30) / 3 min/point 3 times, 3 times a week, one week None
Soriano 1998 [9] RCT GaAs
(n.r.)
904 / pulse type (pulse rate 10,000 Hz) 40 /26.7 × 106* 2.67 × 106 / 4* 1.5*10–6 cm2/ Low back region / 100 s 10 times, 5 times a week, 2 weeks None
Vallone 2014 [18] RCT GaAlAs
(LEONARDO BIO DMT dental medical technologies, Lissone, Italy)
980 / continuous 20 × 103 / 625* 37.5 / 1,200 32 cm2/ 6 points in paravertebral region (L2 to S2–S3) / 1 min/point 9 times, 3 times a week, 3 weeks Exercise
Choi 2007 [19] RCT GaAs
(Combi500, Gymna, Belgium)
904 / pulse type (pulse duration 155 ns) 14 / n.a. n.a. /2.5 n.r. / 10 points in paravertebral region / 3 min/point 10 times, 5 times a week, 2 weeks None
Klein 1990 [20] RCT GaAs
(Omniprobe laser biostimulation unit)
904 / pulse type (pulse rate 10,000 Hz) 5.42 / 5.42* 1.3 / 1.3 1 cm2/ Low back region (L4 toL5, L5 to S1) / 4 min/point 12 times, 3 times a week, 4 weeks Exercise
Ruth 2010 [21] RCT n.r.
(Laserneedle)
680, 785/ continuous 50–150 / 1–5 n.a./n.a. n.r./ 8 points (BL 23, 40, 60, Ni3, GB-track, Ashi acupoints) / 15 min 10 times, 2 times a week, 5 weeks Conventional therapy
*

Calculated parameters.

RCT, randomized controlled trial; Nd YAG, Neodymium yttrium-aluminum-garnet; GaAlAs, gallium-aluminum-arsenide; GaAs, gallium arsenide; n.r., not reported; n.a., not available.

Table 6

LLLT/LA Methods of Included Studies Comparing LLLT/ LA as Alone with Other Therapies.

First author, year Study design Medium (model, manufacturer) Wavelength (nm)/type Power output (mW)/power density (mW/cm2) Energy density (J/cm2) /dose/point (J/point) Beam size/number of treatment/treatment time Treatment session & interval Other interventions on both group
Tantawy 2019 [24] RCT (1) LP
GaAlAs
(FISIOLASERSCAN HP4, CHINESPORT, Udine, Italy)
808 / continuous 25* / 113.6 17.05 / 3.75 0.22 cm2 / 8 points (L2–S3) / 150 s/point 16 times, twice a week, 8 weeks Exercise
(2) US
(Chattanooga, 278 w/Ultrasound, New York, USA)
Frequency: 1 MHz /Continuous wave /Intensity: 1 W/cm2 5 cm2 / Lumbar vertebral region / 10 min
Liu 2017 [26] RCT (1) LI
n.r.
(Super Lazer HA-2200)
n.r. n.a. n.a. n.r / Acu points in lumbar region / 7 min/points 20 times, every day, 20 days None
(2) Manipulation 1) Patient in prone position with abdominal pad with soft pillow and Rolling method to make a large massage on the waist and hips. Gradually roll from around to the center of the pain point, repeated several times from slight to heavy.
2) Take a finger manipulation method to take BL23, BL25, BL52, and BL40, and push each point for about 1 minute.
3) Then, along the sides of the waist, along the BL-track is scrolled up and down. Finally, take passive traction of the lower back muscles, fascia and ligaments.
*

Calculated parameters.

RCT, randomized controlled trial; LP, laser photomodulaton; US, ultrasound therapy; LI, linear-polarized near-infared light; n.r., not reported; n.a., not available.

Table 7

LLLT Including LA Methods of Included Studies Comparing LLLT/ LA as Add-on Treatment.

First author, year Study design Medium (model, manufacturer) Wavelength (nm)/type Power output (mW)/power density (mW/cm2) Energy density (J/cm2) /dose/point (J/point) Beam size/ number of treatment/Treatment time Treatment session & interval Other interventions on both group
Tantawy 2019 [24] RCT (1) LP
GaAlAs
(FISIOLASERSCAN HP4, CHINESPORT, Udine, Italy)
808 / continuous 25* / 113.6 17.05 / 3.75 0.22 cm2 / 8 points (L2–S3) / 150 s/point 16 times, twice a week, 8 weeks None
(2) Exercise Active strengthening, stretching, mobilization, coordination, and maintaining stabilization of back. 15 times, 3 times a week, 8 weeks
Guo 2010 [25] RCT (1) Diode laser
GaAlAs
(MDC1000–31BP, Shanghai)
830 / n.r. 300–500/n.a. n.r. / n.a. n.r./ n.r. / 5 min/point 10–20 times, n.r. None
(2) Maitland technique Manipulation method including traction, stretching, massage in lumbar spine.
Qin 2010 [25] RCT (1) Laser diode radiation
GaAlAs
GaAlAs
(MDC1000-31BP, Shanghai)
830 / n.r. 300–500/n.a. n.r. / n.a. n.r./ n.r. / 5–10 min/point 10–20 times, n.r. None
(2) massage Manipulation method including rolling, finger pressure, traction etc.
Gur 2003 [28] RCT (1) Laser
GaAs
(n.r.)
904 / pulse type (pulse rate 2.1 kHz) 42.42* /4.2 1 / 10.1 10.1 cm2 / Pain points (L4–5, L5–S1) / 4 min 20 times/ 5 times a week / 4 weeks None
(2) Exercise Lumbar flexion and extension, knee flexion, hip adduction exercise and strength exercises of extremity muscle group. 40 times/ 2 times a day / 4 weeks
*

Calculated parameters.

RCT, randomized controlled trial; LP, laser photomodulaton; GaAlAs, gallium-aluminum-arsenide; GaAs, gallium arsenide; n.r., not reported; n.a., not available.

Table 8

LLLT/LA Methods of Included Studies Comparing 2 Methods of LLLT/LA.

First author, year Study design Medium (model, manufacturer) Wavelength (nm)/type Power output (mW) /power density (mW/cm2) Energy density (J/cm2) /dose/point (J/point) Beam size/number of treatment/treatment time Treatment session & interval Other interventions on both group
Ammar 2015 [22] RCT GaAlAs
Anodyne Therapy System, model 480
(Anodyne Therapy, LLC, Tampa, Florida)
890 / pulse type (pulse rate 292Hz) 267 / 11.85* 2.13* / 48 22.5 cm2/ 8 points (either side in lumbar spine) / 30 min 12 times, 2 times a week, 6 weeks Exercise
GaAlAs
(Chattanooga group, USA)
850 / continuous type 100 / 12.7 × 103* 1,143 / 9 1 mm (diameter)/ 8 points along the lumbosacral spine (T12–S3) / 90 s/point
Dogan 2017 [23] RCT GaAlAs
(Chattanooga group, USA)
850 / continuous type 100 / 1,428* 342.7 / 24* 0.07 cm2/ 4 point (L4–L5, L5–S1) / 4 min 15 times, 5 times a week, 3 weeks hot-pack
HeNe + GaAlAs
(n.r.)
HeNe 680mm 10 diodes (1) + GaAlAs 785nm 3 diodes (2) + GaAlAs 980nm 4 diodes (3) / continuous (1) 7 mW/ n.a.
(2) 50 mW/ n.a.
(3) 10 mW/ n.a.
3 / n.a. 112 cm2/ 17 point (L4–L5, L5–S1) / 20 min
Glazov 2014 [13] RCT GaAlAs
(Acupak, Melbourne, Australia)
830 / continuous 20 / 100 1* / 0.2 0.2 cm2/ 9 points (individualized acupoints) / 10 s/points 8 times, once a week, 8 weeks none
GaAlAs
(Acupak, Melbourne, Australia)
830 / continuous 20 / 100 4* / 0.8 0.2 cm2/ 9 points (individualized acupoints) / 40 s/points
*

Calculated parameters.

RCT, randomized controlled trial; GaAlAs, gallium-aluminum-arsenide; He-Ne, helyum-neon; n.r., not reported; n.a., not available.