Comparing Laser and Light Therapies

light vs laser therapy

You may have noticed in recent years that laser and light therapies have become popular modalities for medical professionals to use in order to accelerate the healing and recovery process. Whether it is an average patient with a pulled muscle, a college athlete with a sprain, a professional athlete who is post-op, or a child with severe inflammation, these noninvasive, treatment options are becoming a preferred method to help many people heal and recover. Maybe you have been wondering if this could even be an option for you?

When it comes to laser & light therapies (classified as photobiomodulation/PBM therapies) there are lot of different options to choose from. If you don't understand the minute to significant details, it can be a bit overwhelming, So, where do you begin and what should you try? We will give you the PBM Therapy - 411, comparing all of these light based therapies in hopes to alleviate any stress you might have when it comes to making this decision!

Light (LED) VS Laser

ankle laser treatment

Both, laser and light (LED) therapies utilize energy from different types of light wavelengths in order to treat inflammation and pain. There are stark similarities and differences between the two, but both are viable options depending on the severity of the injury and the patient's current condition.


Laser and LED therapies are types of PBM (photobiomodulation) therapies. This means that the energy delivered to the targeted tissue creates a photochemical response in the body that will naturally heal itself through cellular regeneration. The sources of light used in both therapies are usually wavelengths in the red, or near-infrared spectrum. The two therapies share the same mechanism of action and usually include some form of diode technology (an electrical device that enables a current to move through it in one direction). As mentioned above, both have shown a positive impact in reducing pain, inflammation and speeding up the healing process of superficial injuries.


According to Mark L. Callanen (PT, DPT, OCS & Director of Clinical Development at Litecure) the, “Significant differences include the power generated, the specificity of wavelength, and the physical characteristics of the beam generated from the diode.”

What makes the light of a laser unique is that it is considered to be monochromatic, coherent and collimated. Monochromatic means that there is a single wavelength which stimulates particular human tissues that will only respond to that specific wavelength being utilized. Coherent means that it minimizes the photon scatter as light interacts with the tissue. And, because lasers have a higher power that works with a specific wavelength, they are collimated; meaning it can actually reach the deep tissues. More information can be found by clicking here.

LED, or light therapy, emits a small band of wavelengths, but not a single, specified one. Light therapy does not emit heat, as it is only energy emitted from the lights. This makes it tougher to reach desired, targeted tissues. Due to the fact that LED is not a collimated, nor a coherent beam, and the wattage is much lower than a laser, it is not ideal for treating deep tissue injuries, let alone in a shorter time frame. LED is primarily used for superficial conditions and injuries such as scars, wounds, acne, and more.

Cold Laser VS Deep Tissue


Cold laser and deep tissue laser therapies are more similar to one another. They both have positive impacts on superficial conditions and more intense tissue injuries/conditions that are deeper than what is considered to be superficial. They both are types of PBM lasers that stimulate cell regeneration for healing and reducing inflammation. You can reference another blog of ours, What You Need to Know About Laser Therapy, and the Light VS Laser Therapy comparison listed above, for a deeper understanding of laser therapy.


Cold Laser Therapy is considered to be an outdated therapy and references all Level II and III lasers. These lasers are not strong enough to create heat on the surface of the skin and are not near as effective as Level IV lasers. Deep Tissue Laser Therapy references all Level IV Lasers; which are more powerful with a higher wattage. This means that they are more effective because they can reach deeper, specific tissues, in a shorter amount of time. These lasers are powerful enough to create heat on the surface of the skin.

Light VS Infrared


All Light Therapies are a type of PBM Therapy and only some infrared therapies are considered to be a type of PBM therapy. In fact, some red light therapies use near-infrared lights in combination with the red lights. These therapies both utilize light wavelengths to stimulate the cell regeneration process, increase blood flow, and speed up the healing process.


Light therapy and infrared therapy are different therapies that are great compliments of one another. An individual can utilize both to achieve their healing objectives, if the injury, or condition is applicable to that therapy.

Light therapy does not utilize heat, but it does utilize energy from light. This energy is directly absorbed by our mitochondria, activating the overall healing process. Light therapy can be blue light, red light, or a combination of red light with near-infrared light. This therapy is most useful for superficial conditions and injuries because it triggers the production of new collagen. It is also, known to help with inflammation and minor aches and pains.

Infrared therapy can be near, mid, or far. Not all Infrared wavelengths are suitable for PBM, or for generating heat. However, some very specific and different Infrared wavelengths are effective for generating heat, or for PBM. Infrared is invisible and penetrates deeper than red light. Infrared wavelengths from 600-950nm are considered to be the optimal window because it penetrates the body most effectively in this range and boosts cellular function. When used to generate heat you will typically see this being used in saunas and they should be far-infrared, IR-C wavelengths because they are most effective in generating radiant heat. Radiant heat directly raises the human core temperature and this increases vasodilation, circulation, blood flow, heart rate and more. This also, helps with chronic illness, reduces inflammation, muscle recovery time, and more. Infrared that is suitable for PBM, is typically being used in conjunction with red light. You can reference the information on the above Light Therapy to understand what it treats and what the benefits are.

Which therapy should you use?

knee pain

Ultimately, only YOU and your physician can answer this! There are some limitations and disqualifications to these therapies. Some of these circumstances include, but are not limited to if you are currently being treated for cancer, have any metal implants, or you are pregnant. This means it is crucial to do your own research, consult with your doctor, and ask your Physical Therapist about it in order to help determine what your best option is.

Remember, it is important to be your own advocate and obtain good information from trusted, reliable sources. If you are interested in Deep Tissue Laser Therapy, or Cold Laser Therapy, we, at Envision Sport Physical Therapy & Pilates, can provide these treatments for you! Give us a call at (949) 713-6445 and we can schedule your appointment.



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#LaserTherapy #LightTherapy #Photobiomodulation #noninvasivetreatment #surgeryalternatives

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