Low-level laser therapy has been cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of lymphedema. Laser therapy has not been researched extensively yet, but some small studies have found that it can help reduce the volume of the arm, break down scar tissue, and increase range of motion while reducing tightness for some women. The thinking is that the laser light increases the flow of lymph, reduces the amount of excess protein and tissue in the fluid, and reduces the ability of scar tissue to “stick” to the underlying healthy tissue.
With laser therapy, your lymphedema therapist would place a small, hand-held device directly onto your skin for short intervals to deliver the laser treatment. The device looks much like the otoscope your doctor uses to look inside your ears during regular checkups. You don’t feel anything as the laser treatment is delivered.
Some therapists find that laser therapy is a valuable add-on to the treatment plan, especially when there’s a significant amount of thick, hard scar tissue under the skin (known as fibrosis). However, more evidence from research studies is needed to make definite recommendations about the best use of laser therapy.
As with other lymphedema treatments, it’s never a good idea to try to use a laser therapy device on your own. There are low-level laser devices available online and marketed directly to consumers. However, attempting to use them on your own could make lymphedema worse. Only work with a lymphedema therapist who has been trained in using low-level laser therapy as part of the overall treatment plan.