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Acupuncture Today
February, 2003, Vol. 04, Issue 02
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Laser Acupuncture and Musculoskeletal Pain

By David Rindge, DOM, LAc, RN

The most common reason for an individual to seek treatment by an acupuncture physician is musculoskeletal pain. Laser acupuncture is an integral part of the strategy we use in our clinic.

The effectiveness of low-intensity lasers in the treatment of musculoskeletal pain is well-supported by positive, double-blind studies. Please refer to the list at the end of this article. Whenever I use a laser, I imagine it as a torch, melting away blockages and restoring the flow of qi.

Case Studies

Hip Pain

PP is a 76-year-old male who reported chronic left hip pain since replacement surgery in 1992. He believed a second procedure would be necessary, and came to us more or less as a last resort. PP rated the pain at four on a 0-10 scale before treatment. He described his left hip as chronically uncomfortable, with sudden, stabbing pain on movement. Immediately after the first treatment, PP scored his pain at two. Pain scores were less than one thereafter. He was seen for four treatments. Before the last treatment, PP reported that his hip pain was gone. Three months later, he stated that he was virtually pain-free, and no longer contemplating surgery.

Back and Hip Pain

GB is a 70-year-old pharmacist whose primary complaint was pain in the right low back and hip, radiating to the posterior thigh, for which he was considering surgery. He was seen for a total of seven treatments and reported a complete absence of pain after the fifth session.

"Tennis" Elbow

KK is an active, 42-year-old female who operates a janitorial service and had experienced chronic pain in the lateral epicondyle of her right elbow for many years. She attributed the pain to her occupation and came to our office because of an acute exacerbation affecting her ability to work. KK rated her pain at eight on a 0-10 scale before the first session. She was seen twice weekly for eight visits, scoring her elbow pain at less than one before the last session. Five months later, when KK returned for treatment of acute low back pain, she rated her elbow pain at zero and reported that the problem appeared to have resolved completely.

Shoulder Pain

BS is a 41-year-old professional dancer who injured his right shoulder while lifting his dance partner. He came to our clinic four months later to strengthen the shoulder to be able to compete professionally once again. BS was unwilling to risk lifting his partner during practice for fear of further injury. He rated his pain before treatment at three on a 0-10 scale with his arm at rest, and at five when raised above shoulder level. After nine treatments, BS reported a pain score of less than one, and was able to lift his partner and compete professionally.

Knee Pain

CY is a 44-year-old female whose primary complaint was pain in both knees, which she rated at four before treatment on a 0-10 scale. She was seen for five visits, but reported that the pain had resolved completely after the second treatment.

Hip, Low Back and Shoulder Pain

SB is an athletic 53-year-old female who came to our clinic with pain in both hips, the low back and left shoulder. She was treated on five occasions before returning home at the end of her vacation. In most instances, SB reported pain scores of zero immediately after each treatment, and her pretreatment scores also declined progressively over the course of therapy. She rated the worst pain in her left hip at six on a 0-10 scale before treatment and at two prior to the last treatment. Pain scores in her low back and shoulder were zero before the last treatment. SB was unable to touch her toes before beginning treatment, though she came within two centimeters of doing so; she was able to touch her toes before the last treatment.

Positive Double-Blind Studies in Musculoskeletal Disorders


  • Antipa C, et al. Comparative effects of various IR low energy diodes in the treatment of the rheumatic diseases. 1997. In press (Monduzzi Editore, Bologna).
  • Barabas K, et al. Controlled clinical and experimental examinations on rheumatoid arthritis patients and synovial membranes performed with neodym phosphate glass laser irradiation. Proc. 7th Congr Internat Soc for Laser Surg and Med, Munich June 1987. Abstract no 216a.
  • Goldman JA, et al. Laser therapy of rheumatoid arthritis. Lasers Surg Med 1980;1:93-102.
  • G¼rtte S, et al. Doppelblindstudie zur ueberpruefung der wirksamkeit und vertraeglichkeit einer niederenergetischen lasertherapie bei patienten mit aktiver gonarthrose. Jaros Orthopaedie 1995;12:3034.
  • Hoteya K, et al. Effects of a 1W GaAlAs diode laser in the field of orthopedics. In: Meeting report: The First Congress of the International Association for Laser and Sports Medicine. Tokyo, 1997. Laser Therapy 1997;9(4):185.
  • Lonauer G. Controlled double blind study on the efficacy of He-Ne-laser beams versus He-Ne- plus infrared-laser beams in the therapy of activated osteoarthritis of finger joints. Clin Experim Rheuma 1987;5(suppl 2):39.
  • Mach ES, et al. Helium-neon (red light) therapy of arthritis. Rheumatologia 1983;3:36.
  • Miyagi K. Double-blind comparative study of the effect of low-energy laser irradiation to rheumatoid arthritis. Current Awareness of Excerpts Medica. Amsterdam. Elsevier Science Publishers BV. 1989;25:315.
  • Molina JJ, et al. La laserterapia como coadyuvante en el tratamiento de la A.R. (Artritis Reumatoidea). Boletin CDL, Barcelona, 1987;14:4-8.
  • Nivbrant BO, et al. Therapeutic laser treatment in gonarthrosis. Acta Orthop Scand 1989;60:231.
  • Ortutay J, et al. Psoriatic arthritis treatment with low-power laser irradiation. A double-blind clinical study. Lasermedizin - Laser in Med Surg 1998;13(3-4):140.
  • Oyamada Y, et al. A double-blind study of low power He-Ne laser therapy in rheumatoid arthritis. Optoelectronics in Medicine 1987; p 747-750. Springer Verlag, Berlin (abstract). Complete study in Boleton de CDL. 1988;17:8-12.
  • Palmgren N, et al. Low-power laser therapy in rheumatoid arthritis. Lasers in Medical Science 1989;4:193.
  • Willner R, et al. Low power infrared laser biostimulation of chronic osteoarthritis in hand. Lasers Surg Med 1985;5:149.


  • Gudmundsen J, et al. Laserbehandling av epicondylitis humeri og rotatorcuff-syndrom. Dobbelt blindstudie - 200 pasienter. (Laser treatment of epicondylitis humeri and rotator cuff syndrome. Double blind study - 200 patients. In Norwegian.) Norsk Tidsskrift for Idrettsmedisin 1987;2:6.
  • Haker E, et al. Is low-energy laser treatment effective in lateral epicondylalgia? J of Pain and Symptom Management 1991;6(4):241.
  • Hopkins GO, et al. Double-blind crossover study of laser versus placebo in the treatment of tennis elbow. Proc International Congress on Lasers, "Laser Bologna," 1985:210. Monduzzi Editore S.p.A., Bologna.
  • Palmieri B. A double-blind stratified crossover study of amateur tennis players suffering from tennis elbow using infrared laser therapy. Medical Laser Report 1984;1:3-14.
  • Simunovic Z, Trobonjaca T, et al. Treatment of medial and lateral epicondylitis - tennis and golfer elbow - with low-level laser therapy: a multicenter double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study on 324 patients. J Clin Laser Med & Surg 1998;16(3):145-151.
  • Vasseljen O, et al. Low-level laser versus placebo in the treatment of tennis elbow. Scand J Rehab Med 1992;24:37. Also in Physiotherapy 1992;5:329.


  • Scudds RA, et al. A double-blind crossover study of the effects of low-power gallium arsenide laser on the symptoms of fibrositis. Physiotherapy Canada 1989;41:(suppl 3):2.


  • Loegdberg-Andersson M, et al. Low-level laser therapy (LLLT) of tendinitis and myofascial pains - a randomized, double-blind, controlled study. Laser Therapy 1997;2(9):79-86.
  • Meier JL, Kerkour K. Traitement laser de la tendinite. Med et Hyg 1989;46:907-911.
  • Saunders L. The efficacy of low-level laser therapy in supraspinatus tendonitis. Clin Rehab 1995;9.

Click here for previous articles by David Rindge, DOM, LAc, RN.


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