Laser for Pain

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic, autoimmune disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. It can lead to joint inflammation, pain, and disability, severely impacting the quality of life for those who suffer from it. While there is no known cure for RA, there are various treatments available to help manage the symptoms. High-intensity laser therapy (HILT) has emerged as a promising and innovative approach for managing the pain and inflammation associated with RA. Let’s dive into the ins and outs of laser for RA!

patient with rheumatoid arthritis

Understanding Rheumatoid Arthritis

Before delving into high-intensity laser therapy, it’s essential to understand the underlying mechanisms and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

RA is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the synovium, the lining of the membranes that surround the joints. This results in chronic inflammation, leading to joint damage and deformities. Some common symptoms of RA include joint pain, stiffness, swelling, fatigue, and loss of joint function. If left untreated, RA can severely impair mobility and quality of life. So what can you do?

Current Treatment Options

Current treatment options for RA focus on managing symptoms and slowing disease progression. These include:

current treatment options for rheumatoid arthritis
  1. Medications: Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and corticosteroids are commonly prescribed to alleviate pain and reduce inflammation. NSAIDs have been shown to be very helpful in the treatment of RA; however, they have many adverse effects (potential issues with gastrointestinal tract and the kidney).
  2. Therapy: Physical/occupational therapy helps improve joint mobility, strengthen muscles, and reduce pain.
  3. Lifestyle Modifications: A balanced diet, regular exercise, and adequate rest has been proven to help manage RA symptoms.
  4. Surgery: In severe cases, joint replacement surgery may be required to restore joint function.

High-Intensity Laser Therapy: An Emerging Option

High-Intensity Laser Therapy (HILT), also known as photobiomodulation (PBM), is a non-invasive, drug-free, and painless treatment modality that uses high-intensity laser light to stimulate cellular activity and promote healing. This modality has not been shown to cause adverse effects. This therapy has shown promise in the management of various musculoskeletal conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis. Here’s how it works and why it’s gaining attention:

  1. Cellular Stimulation: HILT involves the use of low-level or high-intensity lasers to target the affected areas. The laser energy penetrates the skin and interacts with cells, boosting cellular metabolism and promoting tissue regeneration.
  2. Reduced Inflammation: HILT can effectively reduce inflammation by promoting the release of anti-inflammatory cytokines, which counteract the pro-inflammatory molecules responsible for RA symptoms.
  3. Pain Management: HILT helps in pain management by triggering the release of endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers. This can significantly improve the quality of life for individuals with RA.
  4. Improved Circulation: The therapy enhances blood circulation in the affected areas, aiding in the delivery of essential nutrients and removal of waste products.
  5. Non-Invasive and Safe: HILT is a non-invasive procedure that does not require surgery or medication. It is also considered safe, with minimal side effects.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Research!

HILT being a cutting-edge treatment for RA means that there is still lots of research being done. The research over the last twenty years has shown significant benefits and effects of the laser. Photobiomodulation (PBM) has been shown to significantly reduce the tumor necrosis factor (TNF-alpha). TNF-alpha activates synovial fibroblasts which causes the overproduction of cathepsins and MMP; which break down proteins within the joints. PBM has also been shown to inhibit the induction and development of collagen-induced arthritis, resulting in the inhibition of synovial (joint lining) inflammation and cartilage degradation. As stated above, laser therapy decreases levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines and increases levels of anti-inflammatory cytokines which can greatly improve the symptoms of arthritis.

laser therapy on the knee for rheumatoid arthritis

One study focused on the effects of HILT with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) in the knees of 30 children. This study compared HILT in combination with an exercise program and just the exercise program with a placebo (fake) laser group. Researchers studied the gait parameters and pain levels as outcomes. The pain scale outcomes were found to have significantly improved post-treatment with the HILT laser group relative to the comparison group, and that improvement was still present at the 12-week follow-up! This study also found gait parameters significantly increased in the HILT laser group after 4 weeks of treatment and after 12 weeks compared to the placebo group!

Another study analyzed the effects of laser therapy on RA of the MCP (knuckles) and PIP joints (finger joints) in the hands. This study used laser therapy on one hand and a sham (fake) laser on the other hand without telling patients, physicians, or therapists which was which (to avoid biases). The laser-ed hand was found to have significant improvements in erythema and pain in comparison to the other, non-laser hand. Heat, swelling, and tenderness were all reported to have improved after laser treatments. A significant improvement was also found in grasp and tip pressure on the laser-ed hand. During laser treatment, the level of circulated immune complexes were noted to be decreased- exact role of the laser to this finding remains to be elucidated.

laser therapy for rheumatoid arthritis in hands


While high-intensity laser therapy is not a cure for rheumatoid arthritis, it offers a promising approach to managing the pain, inflammation, and discomfort associated with this autoimmune condition. The non-invasive, drug-free nature of HILT makes it an attractive option for individuals seeking an alternative or complementary therapy to their current RA treatments.

With benefits such as the ones read about above, laser therapy may definitely be something for you to look into if you are exploring options for managing your RA symptoms. Before you start laser therapy, be sure to consult with your healthcare provider and one of our highly-trained laser therapy providers.

The role of HILT in the management of rheumatoid arthritis is shown to be promising through the research that has already been completed. As research continues and technology advances, high-intensity laser therapy may become an even more integral part of the comprehensive treatment approach for rheumatoid arthritis, offering patients newfound hope for improved joint function, reduced pain, and an enhanced quality of life.