Treating the Brain With Laser Therapy

posted by Curtis Turchin, MA, DC on Thursday, August 21, 2014

Chiropractors have always been interested in the how subluxations affect the nervous system. Modern medicine has finally caught up with chiropractic and is now validating many of the concepts that chiropractors believed to be true. Recent research has documented that lasers can be applied directly to the skull to positively influence brain function.

The New Frontier: Laser Brain Treatment

Low-level laser therapy has already been found to be beneficial in treating complex regional brain syndrome, depression and addiction. About five years ago, research began to document the value of directly treating the brain with lasers. It is astonishing to realize that a doctor can place a laser on a patient’s skull and create a regenerative response.

The first studies on animals in 2006 found that rats who had strokes and whose skulls were treated with an 808 nm laser had a significant improvement in neurological function with an increase in the production of new brain cells.[i] In another study, it was found that animals that had suffered strokes and were treated with medication and laser had better clinical outcomes than those receiving only medication.[ii] A more recent study of brain injury in animals found that a 780 nm laser placed on the animal’s skull stimulated regeneration of the brain.[iii]

Lasers and Degenerative Brain Disease

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a neurodegenerative disease characterized by progressive loss of motor neurons and death. Researchers found that by placing the laser directly on the skull, motor function was significantly improved in the laser group but not the control group.[iv] Another recent study was performed on human Parkinson’s patients using an 810 nm laser and it was found that a single, brief treatment normalized neurological activity and reduced Parkinson’s symptoms. These results are the first demonstration that LLLT could be developed as a novel treatment to improve neuronal function in patients with Parkinson’s disease.[v]

Spinal Cord Injury

Research also documents that a laser can be placed directly on the spinal cord to simulate regeneration, significantly improving the average length of axonal regrowth and increased the total number of axons in animals suffering from spinal cord injury.[vi]

Harvard Medical School: Human Brain Study

The first well-controlled study on humans was done at Harvard Medical School in 2009. In this study, 10 patients with depression and anxiety were treated with an 810 nm light therapy device. The 250 mW light was placed on the forehead, just a few mm above the skin. The researchers noted a significant decrease in depression and anxiety that lasted for 4 weeks after only one treatment.[vii]

More Major Medical Research

Following this Harvard Study, there have been more human studies that demonstrate tremendous benefit from laser therapy on the brain. In a second major human study, 660 human patients received laser therapy applied to the skull. They noted a favorable outcome after 90 days and found that the laser was able to penetrate about 5 inches (2 cm) deep into the skull.

The study was performed at leading medical schools, including UC San Diego Dept. of Neurosciences, Stanford University School of Medicine, Scripps Hospital, University of Massachusetts Medical School, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and Boston University Medical School.[viii]

What Wavelength?

Research documents that laser therapy stimulates regeneration of the nervous system. This positive effect occurs because laser light creates an increase in ATP, RNA/DNA synthesis, oxygen and cell metabolism in nerves.[ix] A number of researchers have found that lasers in the 700-900 nm range are the best wavelengths for brain treatment because they penetrate more deeply and are more effective at stimulating ATP production. In one recent study looking at what wavelength provided the deepest penetration, researchers studied 480 nm vs. 730 nm. It was found that 730 nm laser was more effective. These findings are all consistent with previous studies showing that longer wavelengths produce deeper penetration, with maximum penetration being somewhere between 700 and 900 nm.[x]

There is a reason to be concerned about wavelength because the laser needs to be able to pass through the skull and penetrate into the cortex. This is important because it is estimated that only 3% of the photons delivered to the forehead-scalp surface will reach the cortex.[xi]


The value of using lasers to directly treat the brain is still in the experimental stage. Yet, it is being validated on human subjects by noted researchers in major medical schools and hospitals with quite dramatic clinical results. Based on the positive findings of these groundbreaking studies, we expect lasers to be an integral part of complementary neurological therapy in the near future. Understanding the latest trends in medical research is the first step.


[i] Oron A, et al.. Low-level laser therapy applied transcranially to rats after induction of stroke significantly reduces long-term neurological deficits. Stroke. 2006 Oct;37(10):2620-4.

[ii] Lapchak PA, De Taboada L. Transcranial near infrared laser treatment (NILT) increases cortical adenosine-5=-triphosphate (ATP) content following embolic strokes in rabbits. Brain Res 2009;1306:100-105.

[iii] Rochkind S, et al. Increase of neuronal sprouting and migration using 780 nm laser phototherapy as procedure for cell therapy. Lasers Surg Med. 2009 Apr;41(4):277-81.

[iv] Moges H, et al. Light therapy and supplementary riboflavin in the SOD1 transgenic mouse model of  familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (FALS). Lasers Surg Med 2009; 41:52-59.

[v] Trimmer PA, et al.Reduced axonal transport in Parkinson's disease cybrid neurites is restored by light therapy. Mol Neurodegener. 2009 Jun 17;4:26.

[vi] Wu X, et al. 810 nm Wavelength light: an effective therapy for transected or contused rat spinal cord. Lasers Surg Med 2009;41:36-41.

[vii] Schiffer F, et al. Psychological benefits 2 and 4 weeks after a single treatment with near infrared light to the forehead: a pilot study of 10 patients with major depression and anxiety. Behav Brain Funct. 2009 Dec 8;5:46.

[viii] Zivin J, et al: Effectiveness and safety of transcranial laser therapy for acute ischemic stroke. Stroke 2009, 40:1359-1364.

[ix] Lapchak PA, et al.. Transcranial near infrared laser treatment (NILT) increases cortical adenosine-5=-triphosphate (ATP) content following embolic strokes in rabbits. Brain Res 2010;1306:100-105.

[x] Ankri R, et al. Estimation of the optimal wavelengths for laser-induced wound healing. Lasers Surg Med. 2010 Oct;42(8):760-4.

[xi] Wan S, et al. Transmittance of nonionizing radiation in human tissues. Photochem Photobiol 1981;34:679-681.

About Author

Dr. Curtis Turchin, MA, DC is an internationally known expert in the field of laser therapy for the treatment of acute and chronic pain. He has used laser treatment for nearly 30 years and serves as director of clinical sciences for Apollo Lasers.

Turchin is a ... read more