BACKGROUND. Given the recent interest in light-emitting diode (LED) photomodulation and minimally invasive nonablative laser therapies, it is timely to investigate reports that low-level laser therapy (LLLT) may have utility in wound healing. OBJECTIVES. To critically evaluate reported in vitro models and in vivo animal and human studies and to assess the qualitative and quantitative sufficiency of evidence for the efficacy of LLLT in promoting wound healing. METHOD. Literature review, 1965 to 2003. RESULTS. In examining the effects of LLLT on cell cultures in vitro, some articles report an increase in cell proliferation and collagen production using specific and somewhat arbitrary laser settings with the helium neon (HeNe) and gallium arsenide lasers, but none of the available studies address the mechanism, whether photothermal, photochemical, or photomechanical, whereby LLLT may be exerting its effect. Some studies, especially those using HeNe lasers, report improvements in surgical wound healing in a rodent model; however, these results have not been duplicated in animals such as pigs, which have skin that more closely resembles that of humans. In humans, beneficial effects on superficial wound healing found in small case series have not been replicated in larger studies. CONCLUSION. To better understand the utility of LLLT in cutaneous wound healing, good clinical studies that correlate cellular effects and biologic processes are needed. Future studies should be well-controlled investigations with rational selection of lasers and treatment parameters. In the absence of such studies, the literature does not appear to support widespread use of LLLT in wound healing at this time. Although applications of high-energy (10-100 W) lasers are well established with significant supportive literature and widespread use, conflicting studies in the literature have limited low-level laser therapy (LLLT) use in the United States to investigational use only. Yet LLLT is used clinically in many other areas, including Canada, Europe, and Asia, for the treatment of various neurologic, chiropractic, dental, and dermatologic disorders. To understand this discrepancy, it is useful to review the studies on LLLT that have, to date, precluded Food and Drug Administration approval of many such technologies in the United States. The fundamental question is whether there is sufficient evidence to support the use of LLLT.
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