Cold Laser Therapy for Knee Pain

Medically Reviewed by Tyler Wheeler, MD on September 20, 2022
3 min read

Cold laser therapy beams light energy at your skin to reduce pain and inflammation deep within an area of your body, like your knee. It’s used to treat knee pain from osteoarthritis (OA), as well as low back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), fibromyalgia, tendinitis, nerve pain, and sports injuries.

Cold laser therapy was first developed in the 1960s. It’s also called low-level laser therapy (LLLT), soft laser therapy, or photobiomodulation therapy (PBMT).

Cold laser therapy beams light energy at your skin. The device uses low levels of energy, or photons. Unlike higher-frequency lasers used for surgery, they don’t heat or cut your skin. Photons penetrate deep into a painful joint. The light triggers chemical changes that help damaged cells and tissues heal and regrow.

During treatment, your doctor aims the cold laser device directly at the skin on your knee. It will either touch your skin or be very close to it.

The device sends a quick light pulse into your knee that lasts from 30 to 60 seconds. You’ll need more than one treatment to get results. It can take as few as eight or as many as 30 treatments.

Cold laser therapy can help:

  • Reduce acute (sudden) or chronic (long-lasting) pain
  • Treat inflammation
  • Speed up wound healing
  • Promote tissue regrowth
  • Improve blood circulation in the knee

Cold laser therapy has been shown to relieve mild to moderate OA knee pain, as well as improve sensitivity to pressure and joint flexibility.

Cold laser therapy may also:

  • Open up blood vessels to ease swelling
  • Help your immune system create more chemicals that heal tissue
  • Build more connective tissue in your knee
  • Trigger endorphins, natural hormones that ease pain

Nondrug alternative. Cold laser therapy is a drug-free alternative to opioids for knee pain. Opioids can be highly addictive when used for chronic pain, and they can cause side effects like constipation, nausea, or drowsiness.

Noninvasive. Cold laser therapy doesn’t cut into your skin to treat knee pain, so it isn’t invasive like surgery.

Few side effects. Cold laser therapy for knee pain has no side effects.

Results from cold laser therapy may vary, depending on the cause of your knee pain, any other health conditions you have, or the exact laser treatment or device used. There’s no standard cold laser therapy dose or approach, so results can vary.

Some doctors are skeptical about cold laser therapy and may not recommend it. In the past, it wasn’t clear how light changes damaged tissues. Many doctors felt cold laser therapy was a sham. As new research proves that it does relieve pain, more doctors are in favor of it.

Setup has to be exact. For cold laser therapy to be work, your doctor or technician must adjust the light dose, intensity, frequency, position, and length of treatment. If any of these is off, it may not work at all.

Over-the-counter options may not work. Although you can buy a laser device online to use at home, it isn’t a good idea. The tool may be safe, but you need to be trained to use it correctly or it won’t ease your pain.

Cost. Cold laser therapy could drain your wallet. One treatment session could cost up to $200. You might need up to 30 sessions to get the full benefits. Some insurance policies may not cover cold laser therapy

Risks to eyes. Avoid exposing your eyes to the laser light during treatments. You’ll wear special goggles to protect your eyes.

Some people can’t do cold laser treatments. Don’t have cold laser therapy if you have any of these conditions:

Health care professionals that perform cold laser therapy include:

  • Orthopedists or orthopedic surgeons
  • Physical therapists
  • Physical medicine and rehabilitation doctors, or physiatrists
  • Chiropractors
  • Sports medicine doctors or trainers
  • Occupational therapists
  • Naturopathic doctors