Laser Needle and Metal Needle Equivalence

Medical Acupuncture. 2010 March;22(1):11-17.

Clinical Equivalence of Laser Needle to Metal Acupuncture Needle in Treating Musculoskeletal Pain: A Pilot Study

Dorsher, PT

Mayo Clinic Florida, Jacksonville, FL 32224,

Background: Acupuncture methodology has evolved over millennia with the introduction of new technologies.  Modern laser “needle” systems can transmit light energy deep enough through the skin to influence channel acupoints and trigger points.

Objectives: To compare whether musculoskeletal pain treatment outcomes with acupuncture are clinically equivalent whether using laser or traditional metal needles; and to determine statistical power estimates of cohort size for future double-blinded studies.

Design: Prospective nonblinded cohort study using neuroanatomically based point selection in a crossover protocol alternating between laser and metal needles.

Setting: Outpatient clinic at the Mayo Clinic Florida in Jacksonville, FL.

Participants: Thirty adults with degenerative joint or spine pain whose pain did not respond to allopathic interventions and were receiving metal needle acupuncture. 

Intervention: Laser stimulation at prescribed neuroanatomically based acupoints was alternated at successive treatments with metal needles at the same points for 4 treatment sessions.

Main Outcome Measures: Visual Analog Scale (VAS) (0-10) pain rating, patient preference (metal vs laser), and treatment complications.

Results: For shoulder and knee arthritis pain, metal needle treatment pain VAS was 5.9 vs laser VAS of 3.1 (mean difference, 2.8; P=.05) Ninety percent (9/10) of participants with joint arthritis pain preferred laser treatments and reported more pain relief than similar treatments using metal needles; 80% (16/20) of spine pain participants reported the laser treatments provided at least as much pain relief as similar metal needle treatments.  No laser treatment complications were noted.

Conclusions: This pilot study of participants with chronic refractory musculoskeletal pain demonstrates that when used in neuroanatomical acupuncture treatments, laser stimulation is preferred and provides superior pain relief compared with metal needle treatments of the same acupoints.  The laser “needles” appear to be clinically equivalent to metal needles.”