Injury type: Acute/ Chronic

Category: Complementary and Alternative Therapies

Rating: No Research

What is it?

Laser therapy involves the administration of red through to infra-red light to the tissues for the purpose enhancing the healing process and providing pain relief. It is provided by a small hand held device that makes contact with the skin. There are usually no sensations involved with the treatment, other than the light pressure of the device against the skin.

How does it work?

Laser therapy is believed to work on the principle of inducing a biological response through energy transfer. This occurs through the photonic energy delivered into the tissue by the laser which modulates the biological processes within specific tissues. Low dosages of photonic energy may stimulate those biological processes, and higher dosages may inhibit them. Low level laser therapy (LLLT) may be used to enhance wound healing and pain relief. The effect of LLLT is such that it is thought to accelerate remodeling of scar tissue.

Is it effective?

While there is a lack of current evidence specifically examining laser therapy for people with whiplash, several studies have been conducted to evaluate its effectiveness on neck pain in general. For example, an updated systematic review1 concluded that while LLLT is ‘likely helpful/ worth considering’ for recent and persistent grades I-II neck pain and associated disorders (NAD), it is ‘likely not helpful/ not worth considering’ for recent grade III NAD. Another review2 (used for updating a clinical practice guideline) suggested LLLT as a management option, especially for patients with chronic neck pain with mobility deficits or acute neck pain with radiating pain, with weak to moderate level of evidence substantiating this recommendation. More recently, three fair- to good-quality trials comparing LLLT with sham were included in a systematic review3. Collectively, LLLT was associated with a moderately greater improvement in short-term function and pain, when compared to sham.

Are there any disadvantages?

Laser therapy should not be used near the eyes. The treatment may not be suitable for everyone, therefore an appropriate assessment should be carried out prior to its application by a qualified professional.

Where do you get it?

Medical, dental, podiatric, physiotherapy, chiropractic, osteopathic and acupuncture practitioners may provide laser therapy. The portability and diversity of battery and mains-powered diode laser systems allows treatment to be carried out in various clinical, hospital and field locations.


The use of laser therapy following whiplash cannot be recommended because of a lack of current research evidence. More research is required, including studies determining the parameters and investigating the long term effectiveness of laser therapy.