The Cleveland Clinic reports that knee osteoarthritis (KOA) is a very common condition that will affect about 46% of us in our lifetime, usually after age 40. The condition is characterized by the gradual breakdown of the cartilage in the knee joint until eventually the bone on either side of the joint rubs together causing pain, stiffness, swelling, limping, and instability. The goal of a conservative treatment approach—such as chiropractic care—is to reduce pain, improve function, and hopefully slow the progression of the condition with the aim of delaying or avoiding surgical intervention. One of the tools that a chiropractor may employ as part of their approach is laser therapy.
The two types of laser that may be encountered in a chiropractic setting are low-level laser therapy (LLLT), which operates at up to 500 milliwatts; and high-intensity laser therapy (HILT), which operates in excess of 500 milliwatts. Regardless of wattage, LLLT and HILT both emit energy in a specific range (600nm-1,000nm or from the red to near-infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum) that can penetrate the skin and stimulate reactions in the tissues to improve cellular function, which can reduce pain and accelerate healing.
A 2022 systematic review and meta-analysis that included ten randomized controlled trials (RCT) concluded that both types of lasers are effective for reducing pain and improving function, with HILT offering more significant improvements. Another study published the same year found that combining LLLT with strength training led to better outcomes at one year following the conclusion of care with respect to reduced medication use and better performance on sit-to-stand tests.
When managing a condition like osteoarthritis of the knee, a doctor of chiropractic will typically employ a multimodal approach that may include laser as well as manual therapies, specific exercises, diet/weight management, knee bracing, and physical therapy modalities. The patient may also receive treatment to address musculoskeletal issues of the foot, ankle, hip, or lower back that may contribute to added stress on the knee. If necessary, your chiropractor will co-manage your care with an allied healthcare provider.