Shining a Light on Cold Laser Therapy

When Rebecca Garner came in to see Dr. Stephen Tranter in Georgetown about her injured foot, the pain was so severe she could not wear a shoe. Surgery had healed her broken foot but not the tissue, which was so swollen she could not even tolerate having Dr. Tranter touch it. He prescribed and provided cold laser therapy, a treatment that focuses a laser on the affected area, which Rebecca now calls marvelous for the wonders it did her foot.

After two treatments, she was able to wear a shoe again, and after ten treatments, only mild soreness remained. “It’s just marvelous, unbelievable really, how fast it worked and how well it worked,” Rebecca says.

Dr. Tranter has seen many success stories like Rebecca’s, including relief from tendonitis, frozen shoulder, hip bursitis, and even a paralyzed diaphragm.


Known as the grandfather of laser therapy, Professor Andre Mester began using cold laser therapy in 1967 to treat patients with skin conditions that were not healing. The therapy was originally approved by the FDA in 2001, and was recently cleared for chronic musculoskeletal pain, which has made it more mainstream and, some hope, helpful in reducing the need for opoids for pain treatment. Dr. Tranter says this is a typical example of the sometimes-slow march of medicine. 

Cold laser works by concentrating a laser for a few minutes at a time on the area experiencing pain, to stimulate healing and reduce muscle and joint pain. Different wavelengths and outputs of low-level light are applied directly to a targeted area. The body tissue then absorbs the laser light as it would sunlight, but allows it to penetrate more deeply. The red and near-infrared light cause a reaction, and the damaged cells respond with a physiological reaction that promotes regeneration. “When an area is injured, the function of it is low, and healing can be slow,” Dr. Tranter says. “Stimulation goes beyond natural healing and there are no side effects.”

Hot lasers—surgical and aesthetic—work by heating specific tissues and are quite expensive.  Cold laser, as opposed to hot laser used in surgery, costs $30 to $50 per session, with ten sessions being the typical treatment period. The laser penetrates clothing layers and patients do not feel anything. Dr. Tranter himself was skeptical when he had cold laser applied to one of his own injuries, “You have to trust that it’s doing what it should,” he says.

Dr. Tranter says cold laser therapy is great for patients who are in their 20s or older, but not recommended for adolescents who have not finished growing.