Patients suffering from the common (and costly) condition of neck pain may find relief from a noninvasive, painless treatment that can be administered in primary-care settings: low-level laser therapy (LLLT). Unlike laser used for surgical tissue ablation, LLLT uses light energy rather than intense heat to aid tissue repair, relieve pain, and stimulate acupuncture points.

Chronic neck pain affects up to 24% of the population, according to investigators, who conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials to assess the efficacy of LLLT in neck pain. Reports of 16 trials involving a total of 820 patients were included in the review.

The investigators’ analysis demonstrated “moderate statistical evidence for efficacy of LLLT in treatment of acute and chronic neck pain in the short and medium term” (Lancet. 2009;374:1897-1908).

The researchers stated that the reasons for LLLT-related pain relief were not fully understood, but “Whatever the mechanism of action, clinical benefits of LLLT occur both when LLLT is used as monotherapy and in the context of a regular exercise and stretching program. In clinical settings, combination with an exercise program is probably preferable.”

The researchers point out that in their review, LLLT compared favorably with other widely used therapies—especially with pharmacological treatments, “for which evidence is sparse and side effects are common.”