Using high intensity laser therapy to treat osteoarthritis of the knee

Using high intensity laser therapy to treat osteoarthritis of the knee

man holding sore knee

High-intensity laser therapy works extremely well for knee problems, especially, believe it or not, osteoarthritic knees.

How does laser therapy work?

The way it works is two-fold. It stimulates energy production within the cells, which speeds up the rate of healing. With the increase in energy, damaged cells repair very quickly;

It also produces a compound in the cells that are mildly toxic. That compound is called reactive oxygen species or ‘ROS’, and when the cell experiences some of this compound, it goes into a ‘defensive’ mode because too much of this compound will actually damage the cell.

Now we’d have to treat this for one to two hours to get too much of this compound, but with a knee, we are going to stop after about 10 minutes of treatment.
When the cell goes into that defensive mode, it turns on genes for cell repair and cell rejuvenation. So all those damaged cells start repairing.

Does laser therapy heal cartilage?

Cross section of knee

Now the big question with osteoarthritis of the knee is, is this therapy actually repairing cartilage? Because it’s the cartilage that’s actually damaged.

As we were taught in medical school, you can’t repair cartilage. Once the cartilage is gone, it’s gone, which is why there’s no cure for osteoarthritis. Research studies on animals show that when they administer laser therapy on rabbits with osteoarthritis, they actually regrow some of their cartilage1.

Whether that happens on humans or not, we don’t know, but what we do know is that most people can get good results in pain relief and an increase in range of movement, after just one session of laser therapy. Which is amazing as the osteoarthritis has probably taken thirty years to build up.

That increase in movement and pain relief doesn’t last forever. They might just get one day to start with. It’s a cumulative thing. You get gradual healing.

So normally for an arthritic condition, we say 10 to 14 treatments. What the patient can expect, apart from a nice comfortable warmth, is a gradual improvement in their condition over the coming weeks.


1. Effect of low-level laser therapy on osteoarthropathy in rabbit. Cho HJ, Lim SC, Kim SG, Kim YS, Kang SS, Choi SH, Cho YS, Bae CS. In Vivo. 2004 Sep-Oct;18(5):585-91.